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North Texas Schools Battle COVID-19 Surge, Substitute Shortage

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The COVID-19 crisis in North Texas Schools continues as districts struggle to fill classrooms with educators. While some districts scramble to attract substitutes, others are closing schools altogether.

COVID-19 is spreading in record-breaking numbers. Teachers, of course, are not immune and they’re calling in sick by the dozens.

Robert Abel is Chief of Human Capital Management for the Dallas Independent School District. He says the district has roughly 2,200 active substitute teachers on its roster. They hired 70 just last week, plan to process 30 additional applications, and could still use more.

On Tuesday, the district counted 140 COVID-related teacher absences.

“On average we’ve been averaging about 200 a day which does create the need for about 200 additional substitute requests for our district,” said Abel.

In December DISD passed a measure increase substitute pay. Non-degree substitute pay went from $85 to $100 per day. For subs with degrees, the compensation went from $100 to $105 per day. Abel said right now they’re also offering subs an additional $50 per day for each day spent in the classroom.

“This will hopefully incentivize them to come serve the students of Dallas ISD,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee that it will, especially when neighboring districts have the same problem. In Plano, a student said just this week he witnessed what can happen when there simply aren’t enough teachers.

“They packed five classes into there with two supervisors,” said Plano East Senior High student, Simon Salinas. “The reason this happened is because teachers were out because of COVID and we didn’t have enough substitutes.”

Even Plano ISD’s superintendent, Sara Bonser, found herself filling in at an elementary school last week. At the latest board of trustees meeting, Bonser illustrated the seriousness of the shortage.

“Last Friday we were 190 subs short,” she said. “We were 190 subs short, so everyone in this building was out subbing in a classroom.”

Like Dallas, Plano ISD passed a measure to increase substitute pay. Compensation for certified substitute teachers went from $110 per day to $130 per day. Pay for non-degreed subs went from $85 per day to $100 per day. For degreed subs, from $100 per day to $120 per day.

“We were all hands on deck, and we can do that, but we need to compete for the subs that we can get ahold of,” said Bonser.

Then there are districts where the need is so great, they’ve made the decision to close campuses.

Mansfield ISD released this statement that reads in part:

Due to the rising number of COVID-related absences and a shortage of substitute teachers, Mansfield ISD has decided to temporarily close six elementary schools: Janet Brockett, Louise Cabaniss, Judy Miller, Martha Reid, Tarver Rendon, and Roberta Tipps. These campuses will be closed from Thursday, Jan. 13 through Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 17.

Day-to-day operations at those campuses are strained and it is difficult to sustain a productive learning environment while continuing to ensure the health and well being of our students and staff.

The surge in COVID-10 cases also forced several others to cancel classes. A full list can be found here.

Districts are scrambling for solutions and competing for the same subs in very uncertain times.

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