Schools Struggle to Find Substitute Teachers as Omicron Surges

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Faced with a shortage of subs, schools look to other staff, churches and parenting groups in search of teachers.

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School officials say the sub-drought shows no signs of abating as the omicron type increases.

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“The staff shortage, and the lack of options, make it much worse than I’ve ever seen,” said superintendent Debra Pace in Oscola County, Fla., which has 74,000 students. He is scheduled to replace Kissimi Middle School on Tuesday.

She said that of the nearly 4,000 teachers in her Central Florida district, more than 300 have called in to get sick recently. Yet the district is only able to find everything 40%-50% of the time, while the rate is generally around 90%. In other districts also there is a report of decrease in demand.

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“People are scared,” said 70-year-old Linda Carter, a longtime substitute in Lee County, Fla. “Many of us are at high risk… we are retired teachers, retirees from other walks of life. And we all have medical issues or we care about someone who has medical problems “

Ms Carter, treasurer of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance, said she has been vaccinated and promoted, but has distanced herself from classes since the pandemic. She uses a wheelchair and breathes with the help of a ventilator. “If I get the virus, I’m in trouble,” she said.

In Boston, superintendent Brenda Casselius recently taught fourth grade and helped students take COVID-19 tests. Mark Racine, Boston Public School’s chief information officer and a former teacher, has been teaching arts and assisting a special-education teacher.

“We are doing our best to ensure that every child is faced with the most qualified and appropriate adult,” Mr. Racine said. For example, he said, a guidance counselor who is a licensed teacher may be transferred to a classroom role.

Boston, like many districts, has been battling low student attendance since the winter break. The need for alternatives has diminished, Mr. Racine said, although demand in Boston still exceeds supply. On Thursday, about 10% of teachers were absent, and this month the attendance of students has been around 70%. Mr Racine said all teachers and students are raising serious concerns about the harms of learning absenteeism.

Most US public schools are operating individually, while thousands have moved away, largely due to staff shortages driven by COVID-19 infections. National Education Association president Becky Pringle said teachers who are in a classroom with so many colleagues feel extra stressed and have so few sub members available.

“They are coming to school and not taking lunch break, or find that they have to cover class 80,” Ms Pringle said. At a time when the country needs more teachers, burnout may throw some teachers out of the profession, he said.

In hopes of easing the choice crunch, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed an order Tuesday making it easier for retired teachers to fill out. The same day California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an order lowering the barriers to hiring the substitute. In late December, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill to allow school secretaries and others to serve as deputy.

The Kansas State Board of Education on Wednesday passed a measure allowing anyone 18 or older with a high school diploma to obtain an emergency substitute license, provided they pass a background check and a commitment to employment. Ho. This measure temporarily waives a rule that applicants must have at least 60 semester credit hours from an accredited college or university.

In September, Osceola County increased hourly substitute pay from $9.50 to $12 between $11 and $15. Dr. Paes said the district has conducted outreach with churches, more than 55 communities and parent groups, all with no success.

District staff are being deployed as required to cover the classes. “Paraprofessionals, clerical staff, administrators, coaches, it could be anyone,” she said.

He said that the district tries to avoid giving options for more than one category at a time. But middle- and high-school students are grouped in gyms or auditoriums, overseen by administrators or teachers during their planning period. He said that students are expected to do assignments.

In Denver, Superintendent Alex Marrero recently asked central office workers to work one day a week in schools as a teacher, classroom aide or office worker. He taught a middle school class that officials said might otherwise have to switch to virtual.

The District of Denver said it managed to fill just 44% of requests for options in the first week of January, down from 61% in November and December.

The district’s media relations manager Scott Prible obtained the fingerprints Wednesday as part of his application for the state’s substitute teacher license. The 53-year-old taught high school in his 20s before becoming a firefighter and later moving into the communications field. He said the prospect of teaching afresh after a long absence gives him a mix of emotions.

“Excited, nervous, worried, happy, all that,” he said.

Write Scott Calvert at [email protected]

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