MONTREAL -- Many Quebec families are still uncertain about whether they can get medical exemptions so their kids won’t need to attend class in person.

For teachers, it’s the same. With just four days to go until Montreal’s English school system reopens, many teachers are still trying to figure out what their options are.

Matt Wilson of the Pearson Teachers’ Union says he’s seen “maybe 40 or 50 who have at least sought the information” on how to get an exemption.

“Now, whether that means they’re actually following through with HR to seek the exemption, or if they’re finding out what kind of conditions are being accepted” is less clear, he says.

To the broader system, however, every teachers matters this year, given the ongoing teacher shortage—and the fact that it seems set to suddenly get worse.

A lot of teachers are looking at early retirement rather than teaching through a pandemic, said Heidi Yetman of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents teachers in Quebec’s English systems.

“Our offices got a lot of phone calls about retirement and pension,” said Yetman.

“I have a feeling that we’re going to have many, many retirements from teachers that probably would have stayed on for maybe two or three extra years.”

Quebec’s education minister says that as of Aug. 21, the province was short 256 teachers—but he said positions are being filled every day. 

Plans for those exempted at the EMSB, at least for students, are firming up. Spokesman Mike Cohen says that more than 200 students in the system have already asked for medical exemptions, so the board is planning to open a virtual school for them.

“It will be like a regular school, K to 11 with an administration, with staff,” he explained. “Students will get up in the morning and they’ll go to class.”

There are many other questions still unanswered, though, for other staff, especially those who travel between schools.

“Psychologists, they sometimes have six schools that they go to,” said Yetman. “That has to be addressed—we cannot have psychologists running around from school to school.”