Yukon schools have several vacancies entering the new year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Yukon schools have several vacancies entering the new year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

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

Education department says it’s too early to say how many specialized staff are covering for teachers

The president of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals is concerned the most vulnerable students are being most severely impacted by the shortage of teachers in the territory.

“It’s the students that will suffer if they don’t get the extra support that they’ve been given in the past or that they need,” said Ted Hupé of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals.

The teacher shortage is playing out as Yukon schools ring in the new school year.

While Hupé and the department of Education disagree on the number of vacancies, they agree that providing an exact number can be tricky since the situation is fluid.

As of last week, Hupé told the News by phone on Aug. 23, there are roughly 30 teaching vacancies in the system, including 21 vacancies in the communities.

Hupé said there are three principal vacancies for Hidden Valley Elementary School, Elijah Smith Elementary School and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School, previously known as Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

Hupé said the department’s count of vacancies may not include recent medical leaves and other “last-minute” leaves.

The numbers provided by the Education department were slightly lower than the numbers provided by the association.

In an email, Michael Edwards, a spokesperson for the department, said there are approximately 20 teacher vacancies as of Aug. 23. He said that compares to approximately 25 positions that were open as of Aug. 19.

Enrolling teacher positions account for those that are dedicated to classrooms of students, and the openings for those positions are divided “more or less evenly” across all schools in the territory, Edwards said.

Edwards said “a number” of job offers had been made to applicants, and more offers are expected in the coming days.

On Aug. 17, Nicole Morgan, the deputy minister of Education, announced during a briefing for reporters on COVID-19 in schools that non-enrolling staff with specialized roles may be pulled in to make up for teacher absences.

That means learning assistant teachers and counsellors are being taken away from their typical duties working closely with students who may be struggling to read, write and do arithmetic, and moved in front of the classroom, while students who require special support won’t get the extra attention they need.

READ MORE: No new plans for COVID-19 mitigation in Yukon schools

It remains unclear how many non-enrolled or specialized positions are being put into teaching roles, given the year has just begun in some schools and has yet to begin in others, according to the department.

“For this reason, it is too early for us to provide information about non-enrolled or specialized positions being put in teacher roles,” Edwards said.

Hupé said “that’s all fair and good” because educators will “do whatever it takes to fill the gaps” and at the end of the day there needs to be “a teaching body” at the front of the classroom.

However, he said, that makes it difficult for the department to follow through on its inclusive education agenda in response to the 2019 auditor general’s report. The audit found the department has been unable to close gaps in educational outcomes and did not know whether its approach to inclusive education was working.

“When we are not at full complement, it is those vulnerable learners that are at risk,” Hupé said.

In an Aug. 18 release, the Yukon Party is blaming the Yukon government for the number of job vacancies in schools.

“To fill the gaps, there are reports of patchwork solutions of staff being required to take on positions outside their specialty,” reads the release.

“It seems these concerns are unfortunately becoming a reality, and is another indication that this Liberal government has simply checked out.”

The Yukon Party cites a letter that calls out the lack of substantive action taken on inclusive and special education. Hupé leads one of four groups — along with Autism Yukon, LDAY Centre for Learning and Association of Yukon School Councils, Boards and Committees — that penned the joint letter dated Jan. 4 to Education Minister Jeanie McLean.

READ MORE: Yukon advocates calling for faster improvement on inclusive education

“We are hearing from those on the ground that the education system in the Yukon has never been in worse shape,” education critic Scott Kent of the Yukon Party said in the release.

“For a government that says they are making education a priority, it seems Yukon educators, students and parents are bearing the brunt of the Liberals’ failure to address these concerns over the summer.”

Hupé is pleading for the department of Education to be more vigorous in its recruitment practices to get qualified teachers in front of classrooms in the territory and let specialized staff provide the much-needed support to students.

“How can we embark on an inclusive education agenda when the very people who are the key players in supporting vulnerable children and their learning and inclusive education are in an assignment that they’re not supposed to be?”

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com

Education