An empty classroom at Selkirk Elementary School is seen on Oct. 20, 2022. An Education department spokesperson said schools can adjust learning groups and teaching assignments and use teachers on call to make up for teacher shortages this school year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

An empty classroom at Selkirk Elementary School is seen on Oct. 20, 2022. An Education department spokesperson said schools can adjust learning groups and teaching assignments and use teachers on call to make up for teacher shortages this school year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Yukon schools without teachers in classrooms can adjust: Education department

Affected schools told to tweak learning groups and teaching assignments and use teachers on call

While it is not obvious whether there will be teachers in every classroom, it is obvious the wellness counsellors promised for every Yukon school won’t be in place when the first bells ring this school year.

Education Minister Jeanie McLean told the Yukon Legislative Assembly in March that every school in the territory will have wellness counsellors when students head to classrooms in the upcoming school year.

An Aug. 14 email from communications analyst Zara Soukoroff clarifies the Education department is in the “early stages of recruitment planning” including working with superintendents and executive directors of school boards to hammer out the job description for wellness counsellors before starting to recruit for those positions.

READ MORE: Education department hasn’t started recruiting wellness counsellors promised for every school

According to an Aug. 11 release from the Yukon government, there are 40 postings actively under recruitment across all schools in the territory including for 25 teachers, seven learning assistance teachers, a vice principal, three Yukon First Nations language teachers and four principals, including at the future Whistle Bend Elementary School, as of Aug. 9.

In total, more than 200 “education professional positions” have been filled since “intensive” recruitment efforts started in February, per the release.

The department did not break down vacancies by school.

Soukoroff’s email explains the Yukon is in a similar position to last year when it comes to school staffing.

“It is normal for there to be some teacher and staff vacancies at the beginning of each school year,” reads the email.

The email does not clarify whether teachers will be at the front of every classroom when classes commence.

To make up for teacher vacancies, the email indicates schools can temporarily adjust staff teaching assignments, adjust student learning groups and use teachers on call, who are not required to have a teaching degree.

Certified teachers make between $67,681 to $126,510 depending on the level of education and years of teaching experience, per the release.

READ MORE: Yukon’s teacher shortage puts vulnerable students most at risk: union

Melissa Flynn, executive director of the First Nation School Board, said every one of the board-run classrooms will have a teacher or an adult including teachers on call starting in the fall.

Flynn said as of Aug. 11, there are 23 vacancies including for language teachers, learning assistance teachers, literacy teachers, classroom teachers and administrators across the 11 schools run by the board. That’s down from 58 vacant teaching and administrative positions in the spring.

Flynn noted several new positions have been created at schools including in independent learning centres and experiential outdoor education.

“Recruitment into our communities has always been a challenge,” Flynn said about the mostly rural schools.

“The lack of housing has contributed to the difficulty in hiring staff for our schools.”

Flynn said the board is working with the Yukon Housing Corporation and local First Nation governments to solve the housing problem.

“It’s really important to thank the teachers,” Flynn said.

“It’s not easy entering into a school year when there are teacher shortages and so everyone has to pitch in to ensure that we’re offering robust learning environments for everybody.”

There are no vacancies in the three schools managed and operated by the French school board, according to Marc Champagne, executive director of the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon.

READ MORE: Dawson City’s school buses to run normally for new school year

In an Aug. 4 release, the territory’s Education department announced 81 new full-time student support positions over the next three years, including 40 positions this coming year, subject to legislative approval and a $1 million investment in student support initiatives.

“These new positions, which include school wellness counsellors, education assistants and learning assistance teachers, will be hired from 2023 to 2026,” reads the release.

“The role of wellness counsellors, a new addition to Yukon schools, will be to provide a variety of direct supports to students, families, educators and the community, which may range from assessments, counselling, consultation and programming, case management and education, depending on the specific needs of individual schools and communities.”

The positions have not been allocated or detailed, according to an Aug. 10 email from communications analyst Michael Edwards. More information about allocations for this school year is anticipated to be available in the second week of September. The positions are expected to cost $7.7 million for 2023/24 and at least $13.3 million annually after that.

“The Yukon government made a commitment in the 2023 confidence and supply agreement to add additional student support positions in Yukon public schools. We are moving forward with this commitment,” reads the email.

“All government main estimates and supplementary budgets must be voted on and approved by the legislative assembly, and we look forward to the passing of this fall’s supplementary budget.”

One human resources unit is doing all the hiring for all positions needed for the coming year, Edwards wrote.

McLean called it an “unprecedented investment in school-level resources.”

“Our government is showing its commitment to better supporting the needs of diverse learners and fostering positive mental health and wellness among Yukon students. This speaks directly to our government’s work to foster an inclusive and supportive education system for all Yukoners,” McLean said in the Aug. 4 release.

“The inclusion of wellness counsellors and improved cultural supports represents a major milestone in our efforts to implement wrap-around support in all Yukon schools, highlighting the significance of the comprehensive mental health and wellness approach that is currently being developed.”

In the joint release with the government, Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said students can’t wait any longer when it comes to their well-being.

“More educational assistants and learning assistance teachers means kids will have more resources in classrooms. A wellness counselor in every school will make a huge difference for students’ mental health all over the territory,” she said.

“We look forward to seeing these changes put in place for the benefits to students everywhere in the Yukon.”

The Yukon Party is keeping an eye on the territorial Liberal government’s level of preparedness at the start of the school year.

“Last year, we saw education assistants and learning assistance teachers filling teacher positions to make up for the vacancy shortfall,” said Education critic Scott Kent in a Aug. 14 release.

“We hope there is a sufficient number of substitutes available to ensure this does not happen again this year. We are hopeful the Liberals will address these questions at Thursday’s press conference.”

The government has set up an Aug. 17 press conference on what to expect this school year and how the department expects to move forward on key initiatives.

Contact Dana Hatherly at