By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
Additional reporting by Travis Mounts, TSnews
The Kansas State Board of Education unanimously agreed last week to suspend until June a requirement that licenses for substitute teachers be limited to applicants who completed 60 credit hours of college courses.
The emergency declaration was inspired by the shortage of substitute teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary policy is expected to alleviate staffing pressure on schools.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our teacher ranks thin, and there simply aren’t enough licensed individuals to fill substitute roles when our educators are sick or otherwise have to be out of the classroom,” said Randy Watson, commissioner of education in Kansas. “This is far from an ideal or perfect solution. We have to offer relief to Kansas teachers and schools.”
The idea was endorsed by the Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators of Kansas and the Kansas Association of School Boards.
“As we continue to look to medical experts for guidance, keeping students in classrooms with highly qualified educators is our priority,” said Kevin Riemann, executive director for KNEA. “We support this temporary, but necessary, step because it gives school staff time to recover from illness without putting additional and unsustainable pressure on an already thin workforce.”
“With a shrinking pool of substitutes and the growing number of teachers out with COVID and other seasonal illnesses, this is an option we can support if it keeps our schools open,” said G.A. Buie, executive director of USA-Kansas.
The board policy and related emergency licenses would expire June 1. Applicants would again have to meet the minimum requirement of 60 hours of courses at an accredited college or university.
In the meantime, temporary substitute licenses would be available to people at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma. They also must have a verified employment commitment from a school district, pass a background check and consent to be fingerprinted.
Local districts react to policy change
Kansas has relaxed the requirements required to be a substitute teacher as schools statewide struggled with staffing problems exacerbated by spikes in COVID-19 cases.
The Omicron variant is highly contagious, and there are staffing shortages in schools across the nation. That is on top of existing staff shortages that have been seen in many industries. The shortages have been driven by numerous factors, including fewer people in the job market, and a more competitive job market that has pushed up wages in many fields. Over the course of the pandemic, a number of full-time and substitute educators also have left the field over health concerns and the ongoing battles over masks and other safety measures.
TSnews reached out to our seven local school districts, asking them to describe their current staffing situations, what their substitute situation is, and how difficult it is to cover when regular teachers and other staff are out.
Here are their responses.
Mindy Bruce, superintendent, USD 267 Renwick:
“Right now in Renwick, we are good with full-time positions. We could always use more sub cooks, drivers and teachers. In regard to the new sub requirements passed by the state BOE, we will look at all applicants and approve those that will help with the gaps caused by COVID. We have very good substitute teachers now and we are so very thankful for all of them. With the new requirements being passed to help cover for COVID absences, we will look at approving substitutes that will meet the needs of our teachers and students.”
Clay Murphy, superintendent, USD 356 Conway Springs:
“So far, we have been very fortunate and have not had a lot of staff members out. Of course, that can change daily, but so far so good. We have been able to find subs so far and have some very good regular subs that we use over and over. Our teachers and administrators also help cover classes when needed as well as other staff helping out when possible.”
USD 261 Haysville Public Schools statement via Facebook:
“Recently, the district has experienced a significant increase in the number of staff testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. At this time, we are able to meet the staffing needs of all of our buildings. However, if a staffing shortage was to occur, the district may need to temporarily close the school without advance notice. For this reason, we are encouraging families to have a plan in place should the district need to temporarily close due to a staffing shortage.
“Please note the district is not implementing any changes at this time, but we do want to make you aware of potential changes should we continue to experience a high number of positive COVID cases. The district will continue to keep you informed, and will give families as much notice as is possible should a change need to occur.”