Local schools struggling to find substitute teachers

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 9:05 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - As Coronavirus cases rise in the central district, schools are struggling to find substitute teachers to fill staff vacancies due to COVID-19 related issues.

Grand Island Public Schools is experiencing a rapid increase in teachers and staff having to quarantine after having tested positive or being exposed, and this has officials worried about the future of in-person school.

“There is a potential that we could be in a position where we don’t have enough staff to actually operate the school district that we’re currently operating, and of course we have contingency plans if we need to go to a more remote learning environment with certain groups of students,” GIPS Chief of Human Capital Management, Wayne Stelk said.

At the start of the school year, GIPS was confident in its ability to find substitute teachers to handle vacancies. They started at their ideal substitute fill rate of 95 percent, but this has since dropped to about a 83-84 percent rate.

“This is concerning to us," Stelk said. "We’re seeing on average between 23 and 25 of our certified staff who are out everyday due to COVID related situations.”

According to Stelk, a lot of substitutes are retired educators who are in the high risk category, and many of them have declined to teach with Coronavirus impacting schools. Also, the short supply of substitute teachers in the area and across America make it hard to fill the rapid increase in vacancies.

“There used to be a large number of students who come out of the colleges and universities teacher preparation programs, and those programs have seen a decline in graduation," Stelk said. "Not a lot of students are actually selecting teaching as an education. So, that’s had an impact on the substitute teaching pool.”

Northwest Public Schools haven’t had staff being pulled out to quarantine nearly as much as GIPS, but they have struggled to find substitute teachers when they do.

“Our toughest days are those when staff members are quarantined for a reason, and maybe not even our staff members here but maybe staff members at another school,” Northwest Schools Business Manager Sharon Placke said.

Northwest has had some teachers decline out of fear for their health, and also some out of resistance for one of their policies.

“Some people, unless masks are required, the subs won’t come in, but then we’ve had just as many other subs that have said that if you’re going to require me to wear a mask, I don’t want to sub,” Placke said.

Grand Island Central Catholic hasn’t had any issues of multiple staff members being quarantined at a time.

“I hope it never comes to that to where we have to quarantine our entire staff," GICC’s Assistant Principal Phou Manivong said. "I mean we have about 27 teachers that we do have a good size of substitute teachers where yeah it’s going to be a challenge but hopefully we don’t run into that.”

GIPS and Northwest are utilizing staff on their planning and break times to cover classes, and GICC said if worse comes to worst they will do the same.

Stelk knows people may be getting tired of following health guidelines, but he stresses the need for everyone to keep doing them since most students and staff are exposed outside of school.

“We feel that our staff have done an exemplary job adjusting, doing everything they can to provide a great educational opportunity for students, but if we have to shut down there’s no telling what the impact will be,” Stelk said.

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