A shortage of substitute teachers has been a problem since long before the pandemic.
Now, demand is rising fast, so much so that one North Texas school district is concerned there may not be enough to go around as more districts return to the classroom.
Dr. John Mathews, assistant superintendent for administrative services at Celina ISD, said nearly 70% of students and staff who’ve had close contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 have been traced to off-campus activities.
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“It’s not just a school problem,” Mathews said.
At Celina Junior High School, last week 18 students and two staff tested positive. Most, Mathews said, traced back to two activities.
“One of them was an in-school activity and another was they had a large party over the weekend with more than 40 students there,” Mathews said.
Surprisingly, he said teachers in Celina are being impacted far more than students.
As of Wednesday, 3% of teachers are sick with the virus compared to .5% of students, which is creating another problem: Ensuring the district has enough substitutes to fill in when teachers are out for COVID-related reasons, Mathews said.
Not only is the demand for substitutes higher, but Mathews also says the pool of potential fill-ins is down because some subs are at home with their own kids and some are sitting the semester out.
“A lot of them are in the high-risk category,” Mathews said, noting many are retired teachers.
And others are home with their own kids.
Fred Bentson, VP of business development for ESS, a company that staffs substitute teachers, said demand is up as much as 25% compared to this time last year. He said the company has doubled its recruiting and is focusing on training substitutes for in-person and online instruction.
“What we’re doing is taking the extra time to communicate with substitutes to make sure they're concerns and questions and sometimes fears are addressed,” Bentson said.
Another concern at Celina ISD is that too many sick teachers could lead to the school being shut down, especially if everyone isn't on the same page.
“Parents and community members, please help us as well,” Mathews said.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.