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Association is advocating for substitute teachers

Q & A

April 7, 2020 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary


Question: What is the Alberta Teachers’ Association doing to advocate for substitute teachers who are out of work as a result of the cancellation of classes?

Answer: The situation facing substitute teachers has occupied much of my time and energy and those of my colleagues over the last few weeks.

When the government announced its decision to cancel classes, it was immediately clear that substitute teachers were uniquely vulnerable and were at risk. In several conversations with the minister of education and senior government officials, ATA president Jason Schilling and I advocated for substitute teachers to be retained and to be paid based upon their service in prior months. 

These substitute teachers would assist in the delivery of online and distance education and provide coverage for teachers who would be absent from their duties. From the perspective of the larger system, there is a shortage of available substitute teachers in many areas of the province. Retaining substitute teachers for the duration of the pandemic crisis would ensure teachers could access leaves, and subs would be available when the system returned to normal operation.

Initially, these representations were well-received. The minister announced that full funding would continue to flow to the system as usual, and the expectation was that all employees, including substitute teachers, teachers’ assistants, support staff, custodians and even bus drivers, would be retained. 

Unfortunately, on Saturday, March 28, government’s position abruptly changed. In a conference call with education stakeholders and large urban school boards, the minister announced that the government was going to be reducing funding to school boards by 14 per cent, and directed boards to lay off “non-essential” employees. The immediate result of this decision is that, within a matter of weeks, 6,000 substitute teachers and 20,000 other school board employees will be left unemployed and dependent on the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program.

The Association continues its efforts to mobilize public response in support of laid-off school board employees. Visit the “Call your MLA” site at to do your part, and encourage your colleagues, friends, neighbours and family members to do likewise.

The Association is also pushing out information about the process for applying for the CERB, highlighted below.  Please note, though, that like almost everything related to the COVID-19 pandemic, programs offered by the government are frequently changing. Please visit the Association website at or the appropriate government websites for updated information.

Income supports for substitute teachers

According to the Government of Canada, the portal for the CERB should be available in early April. Mem bers who are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) and who have lost their job can continue to apply for EI here, as can Canadians applying f or other EI benefits.

To find out if you are eligible to receive EI regular benefits, you must submit an application online. It will take about 60 minutes to complete. The website takes you through the application process step by step and provides detailed instructions on how to complete the form. 

How to apply for EI

Step 1: Ask your employer for a Record of Employment (ROE). They will either provide you a paper copy or send an electronic copy directly to Service Canada.

Step 2: Apply as soon as possible (even if you do not have your ROE yet). You can apply online using your computer or mobile phone. 

If you cannot apply online, call 1-833-381-2725. Please note that this line is currently overloaded given the millions of people in Canada who have been laid off. Be patient. You will not be issued a 16-digit reference code. Please complete your application without using a reference code. 

Applying for the CERB

There is a large  backlog of EI claims. You may consider applying for the CERB instead. If you have already submitted your EI application, you will automatically be assessed for the CERB. You do not need to send in a new application.

The CERB is not taking applications yet, but you can still get ready to apply. 

If you plan to apply online (by computer or mobile phone), make sure you have a MyAccount with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Register here. The CERB will be accessible through a secure web portal starting in early April. Applicants will also be able to apply by an automated telephone line or a toll-free number.

Additional notes 

  • You do not require a doctor’s note for COVID-19.
  • You can prove your identity to the government faster online if you use online banking through your bank or credit union.
  • Service Canada offices are now closed. The Canadian government will be providing information to help people without a computer and internet. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

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