The Athens County School District, or ACSD, is in need of substitute employees for teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and paraprofessionals due to repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACSD posted on its Facebook page Oct. 7 requesting that people apply for positions as substitutes in the district. The post stated the district has seen a decrease in the number of substitute employees over the last several years.
In August, the school district temporarily shut down due to shortages in transportation staff, according to a previous Post report.
One reason for the lack of substitute teachers has to do with COVID-19 protocols that cause employees with other illnesses to call off work for longer periods of time regardless of the severity of their symptoms or contact with COVID-19, ACSD Superintendent Tom Gibbs said.
The substitute shortage is especially affecting the teaching staff and students at all the schools in the ACSD.
Teachers who need to take half days for appointments and other commitments may feel obligated to spend as much time in the classroom as possible because students may or may not receive substitute instruction after the teachers leave due to the shortage, Sabrina Stalder, president of the Athens Education Association, or AEA, and high school agriculture education teacher, said.
The lack of substitute position applicants is due to many different reasons, ranging from COVID-19 to compensation and requirements.
“If you look at the global job force, everybody's hurting for employees everywhere,” Scott Hall-Jones, vice president of the AEA and elementary math and science teacher, said. “With COVID and all of the requirements of being in the classrooms and the requirements of the state to have a valid sub license, there's just not as many people out there applying for those positions right now.”
People may be wary of applying as substitute teachers because of the risks of coming in contact with COVID-19, Stalder said. Elementary substitute teachers are around 20–28 unvaccinated students because of the COVID-19 vaccines’ age requirements. High school substitute teachers are around a much higher number of students who may or may not be vaccinated due to class changes.
The substitute shortage is a statewide issue that the AEA has been working to address in the ACSD. It has been in contact with the Ohio Education Association and Southeastern Ohio Education Association to come up with possible solutions.
The ACSD approved an increase in substitute pay last year and has been asking people to receive their substitute license since then.
To become a substitute teacher in Ohio, one needs to have a bachelor’s degree and a substitute license as well as have passed a background check, according to standards set by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI, Gibbs said.
“The pay is satisfactory, but is only $110/day currently. There are no insurance benefits,” Gibbs said in an email. “Generally, most people with the qualifications in a small town generally already have full time work or are not working for a specific reason (staying at home with a small child).”
The lack of available substitute teachers not only causes stress for the teachers who need a substitute but also the teachers who are asked to help cover unattended classrooms.
If no substitutes are available, teachers are expected to cover unattended classrooms during their planning, or “free,” periods, Stalder said. Teachers who cover other classrooms during their planning periods are compensated for that time because it is contractually stated that teachers receive a planning period.
While supervision needs are met, the same cannot always be said for educational needs. Teachers’ planning periods do not always align with the classroom periods, which can cause disruption in the learning that takes place.
“I might be in there for 30 minutes of a math period, and then my planning is over,” Hall-Jones said. “Then, another teacher has to come in right in the middle of the lesson and try to pick up where I left off because they're now covering on their planning period.”
Despite the AEA advertising the need for more substitutes, Stalder does not expect the problem to be solved entirely.