The B.C. Teachers' Federation says one month into the school year, there are still not enough teachers in the province's classrooms.
BCTF president Glen Hansman said there are still 1,000 vacancies for contract or on-call teachers. Specialist teachers are being used to teach classes in some cases, depriving special needs students of support.
"It's a bit much to expect students to not have their teacher that they'll have for the rest of the year, or for students with disabilities or English language learners to not have their small group or one-on-one support," Hansman told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.
"Students are upset, it's certainly causing a lot of reasonable angst for our members, and parents and guardians certainly have the right to be concerned about this too."
Jen Mezei, president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, said special needs students getting short shrift is a major concern for her group.
"Last year, we had heard quite a few stories of parents calling us and saying their student who has special needs, if they didn't have support because their support teacher was called in to cover a classroom, they were told to stay home for a day," she said.
Province: 90% of positions filled
Education Minister Rob Fleming said 90 per cent of classroom positions have been filled and the province is working to recruit more teachers.
"There is still some ways to go," he said. "We've got a long-term strategy to recruit more people to the teaching profession. We have had a lot of interest from out of province."
Hansman said the union has proposed ideas for resolving the issue, but hasn't seen enough progress made by the province, school districts or the B.C. Public School Employers' Association.
Out-of-province outreach alone isn't enough, he said, because B.C. has a lower starting salary than other provinces and the housing situation means teachers coming from elsewhere are less likely to find an affordable home to rent or buy.
He said forgiving out-of-province teachers' student loans, paying for moving expenses or giving mid-year vacation time to teachers from other parts of Canada could entice more people to come.
He said it is important to get the positions filled as soon as possible, especially before cold and flu season begins.