Local teachers are feeling the burden of lunch aide staffing shortages, positions that are meant to give those same educators a break.
A staffing agency in Windsor that supplies lunch aides to local school boards is looking to fill roughly 100 on-call positions.
Part-time school aides are sent to schools for a few hours each day to supervise elementary students during nutrition breaks and recess so teachers can have lunch or a break for themselves. However, shortages among those aides are causing others to shuffle or scramble to fill the gaps.
"I have heard of some situations where recess is being held indoors for the whole lunch period, so for the whole 40 minutes the kids remain in the classroom, just because there's not enough lunch time assistants to be outside with the kids," said Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
In those instances, he said, teachers then take their students outside during instructional time to get the fresh air missed over the recess. Spagnuolo said it creates some confusion for the kids and isn't an ideal way to structure the day for anyone.
"If we value what they do, and their importance, then they should be compensated appropriately." - Mario Spagnuolo, president of Greater Essex ETFO
During other scenarios where the lunch aide role couldn't be filled due to shortages, Spagnuolo said teachers may be forced to take their lunch breaks at another time or the principal or vice-principal may be required to step in to fill the role.
"Prior to the pandemic, it was rare to hear about shortages," he said. "Since the pandemic it's much more, I'd say this year, of a common occurrence where teachers are contacting me with concerns, especially when it impacts the students and their ability to go outside to get fresh air."
Positions are minimum wage, part-time and on-call
Prostaff Employment Solutions is the company that provides lunch aides to local school boards. They are seeking to fill about 100 part-time, on-call positions where they would go to schools for a few hours a day to help supervise students when teachers require a break.
"We're getting a lot of feedback from a lot of them who don't feel comfortable going back into the school environment just yet," said Prostaff president Marica Soleski.
Some people that fill these lunch aide positions are early childhood educators or teachers on the supply list and when they get offered full-time work, that creates more vacancies too, she added.
Gas cards used to entice existing staff
Due to the inability to find enough lunch aides, Soleski said they've given existing staff gas cards so they can travel from one school to another and fill-in where needed.
Given that these lunch aide jobs are minimum wage, Spagnuolo said that's likely a discouraging factor in finding more people.
"The pay is not nearly as much as what these folks deserve," he said. "It's an important position and the hours aren't the greatest either. You're giving up a lot of your day to go into a position for just a few hours."
"If we value what they do, and their importance, then they should be compensated appropriately. And quite frankly precarious work through a temp agency is not a way to attract people to a job," said Spagnuolo.