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The B.C. Teachers Union is concerned the teacher shortage is affecting special needs students

File photo. The BC Teachers Federation says a lack of teachers means special-education and ESL instructors are being pulled away from their existing classes. CP PHOTO/Don Denton

The union representing B.C.’s teachers is worried about the impact the teacher shortage is having on student learning this far into the school year.

B.C Teachers Federation President Glen Hansman says students who are in need, are collateral damage because ESL and special-education teachers are asked to fill the role of on-call teachers.

“When a classroom teacher is absent and there aren’t enough on-call teachers to go around, often it’s the special-education teacher or the ESL teacher whose programming is cancelled for that day and they get reassigned.”

He says their being reassigned means students in need miss out.

“Kids with special needs and ESL students aren’t getting the specialized programming that they’re entitled to and that they’re supposed to be getting. We’re a bit worried that we’re going into the eighth week of the school year and there doesn’t seem to be a coordinated game plan.”

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READ MORE: BCTF says province’s classrooms short 1,000 teachers

Hansman says there are about 300 open positions across the province.

He adds luring teachers from other parts of Canada has been unsuccessful, because salaries in other provinces are higher.

Last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision sided with the union, saying it can include class size and composition when renegotiating its contract with the province.

School districts weigh in

The Prince George School District says it’s in pretty good shape despite a crazy hiring spree this summer.

Superintendent Marilyn Marquis-Forster says this year has been unusual.

“The Supreme Court decision brought forward many challenges – lots of great opportunities for students and for staff, for school communities,” said Marquis-Foster.

“But definitely unprecedented challenge when it came to recruitment, and hiring of teachers and getting quality people into our classrooms.”

READ MORE: Vancouver School Board to get $22M less in class size and composition money than expected

She said the district needs to hire five full-time teachers and about 20 teachers on-call to combat the 200 additional students in Prince George.

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The Victoria School District also weighed in, saying there is no shortage of on-call teachers, while the Burnaby district says it’s always looking to hire on-call teachers.

The BC Teachers Federation says it is concerned about 300 available teaching jobs across the province eight weeks into the school year.

The Ministry of Education has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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