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Spike in absentee teachers in Belleville, Ont., area causes shortage

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There's a shortage of educators in the Belleville, Ont., area after a spike in absenteeism which has raised a number of issues with regards to staffing online and in-class learning. 

The latest cause for concern with the return to school is not having enough teachers to operate it.

In the Belleville, Ont., area there’s a shortage after a spike in absentee educators, which has raised many issues with regard to staffing online and in-class learning.

“You just can’t create bodies out of nowhere. The situation is more manpower and human resource than it is funding right now at this point,” said Sean Monteith, the director of education for the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. teachers’ union applies to Labour Relations Board over back-to-school concerns

There are 14,700 students in the Hastings Prince Edward district, and according to the data, 1,800 are learning online. The district says this number is expected to grow to over 2,400 on Oct. 8 when the second octomester begins.

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“What we’re noticing is the uptake on families wanting their children in virtual school is also increasing and that has been a bit of a surprise for us,” said Monteith.

On Friday, Global News spoke with area MPP Todd Smith about the lack of teachers in the region, and he explained that this is an issue plaguing the entire province, and the Ford government is trying to resolve it.

One of the ways the Ministry of Education is addressing this issue is by working with the Ontario College of Teachers to bring trained educators to regions in need. 

“I know so many that have been bagging groceries or working in restaurants to try and make ends meet and not actually getting to put their education to work in a classroom,” said Smith.

Read more: Coronavirus: Is it safe for Ontario students to go back to school?

This week, over 130,000 teachers received a letter from the Ontario College of Teachers asking them if they would help out.

According to the Ontario College of Teachers, teachers had no trouble finding work pre-pandemic.

In 2016, 27 per cent of those entering the profession said they couldn’t find work, but three years later, all but five per cent were working.

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“We were simply saying that if you want to help and can, here’s how. It starts with keeping your licence to teach up to date,” said Ontario College of Teachers in an email to Global News.

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As for the Hastings Prince Edward School Board, Monteith says it has hired 120 occasional teachers over the last two weeks, but that might not be enough.

He is now calling on recent graduates and former teachers to consider moving to the region.

“We are getting to a place where we may have to look at shutting programs down for the short term or the long term if that labour shortage continues,” said Monteith.