CALGARY -- The Alberta Teachers Association is hearing COVID-19 concerns from substitute teachers who are choosing not  to fill the jobs left open by school staff in quarantine, in order to keep themselves safe in the pandemic.

“We know that some substitutes might be a little bit hesitant to go into a school that might have a (COVID-19) watch going on right now because they're concerned about safety,” said Jason Schilling, President, Alberta Teacher’s Association, which represents 44,000 teachers in Alberta’s public, separate and francophone school divisions.

As of Monday, the Calgary Board of Education said 76 staff were in quarantine. The total number of students directed to quarantine by AHS was 753.

Schilling said teachers that travel from school to school have said differing protocols are worrisome.

“They work from day to day, so they don’t have the same income security or benefits security that a contracted teacher would have…We’ve proposed lots of options to government starting in June we saw this potentially being a real problem and saying that, if you could put substitute teachers in a contract that would give them income security and benefit security, and I know that is one of the big concerns for substitute teachers,” said Schilling.

Jason Schilling

Schilling said refusing shifts is up to the professional judgment of a teacher.

“I know from talking to teachers and principals in CBE they are struggling to fulfill their substitute needs on a daily basis and so teachers and principals have been having to scramble to cover those classes which increases their workload,” said Schilling.

According to the Calgary Board of Education, 400 substitute teachers were hired this year, and the board continues to hire more.

“We are aware that as we move into seasonal cold and flu season and as more positive cases of COVID-19 are identified within our communities, the number of available substitutes may decrease,” said Megan Geyer, Communications Advisor, Calgary Board of Education.

On Monday, the CBE moved classes at Coventry Hills School online for the day because of staffing issues related to a positive case of COVID-19.

“When we believe a decision to move students and staff to online learning for a day or a few days is required, after consulting with AHS, the CBE makes a recommendation to Alberta Education. The decision to cancel in-person classes is made on a case-by-case basis, to support the school with staffing and planning for the quarantine period, and is not related to a specific number or ratio of school staff or students directed to quarantine,” said Geyer.

Geyer said responding to positive cases in school communities requires everyone to be flexible, urging families to have a back-up plan for when in-person learning is cancelled.

“All CBE teachers are expected to maintain an online presence this year, to ensure that students can continue learning while they are at home due to illness or direction to quarantine,” said Geyer.

The Calgary Catholic School district said as of Wednesday, it has 78 staff and 915 students in isolation.

The Catholic board has 1127 guest teachers compared to 1062 last year.

“We aren’t currently experiencing any serious issues filling positions, however some days are more challenging than others,” said Sandra Borowski, Senior Communication Specialist, Calgary Catholic School District.