TOPEKA — Dramatic shortage of substitute teachers in Kansas public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting the Kansas State Department of Education to consider temporarily modifying license requirements for people seeking part-time work in classrooms, officials said Tuesday.
Teacher retirements, resignations and absences and the anxiety felt by potential substitutes about the coronavirus fuel a daily labor shortage in districts across the state.
The problem prompted some Kansas districts to place adults in classrooms without complying with a requirement that substitute teachers complete 60 hours of courses at an accredited college or university, said Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the state Department of Education.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Miller said. “We’ve had many requests to adjust the standard for the substitute license.”
She told the state Board of Education the department was considering a plan to temporarily lift employment mandates to relieve stress on school district staffing. The state won’t suspend requirements that substitute teachers undergo fingerprint and background checks, she said.
Kaety Bowers, who was elected in November to the Blue Valley school board, said the state’s public school districts needed a lenient policy on hiring substitutes. She recommended the state Board of Education make temporary adjustments, perhaps 12 months to 18 months in duration.
“We are losing teachers faster than we can replace them,” said Bowers, who takes office in January. “We are having teachers quit at quarter, semester, in the middle of the week. We can’t fill these spots. There is learning loss going on.”
Bowers, who wouldn’t qualify to work as a substitute teacher in Kansas, said her son’s biology teacher quit last week. She said burnout was a significant concern as educators become overwhelmed amid the pandemic. An insufficient pool of substitute teachers contributes to challenges faced by full-time educators, she said.
She suggested the state board grant local school boards the option of bringing community volunteers into classrooms to alleviate the strain.
The Blue Valley school district in Overland Park responded to staffing shortages by moving middle school and high school classes to remote-only instruction from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22. Substitute teachers were to be funneled to the youngest students and to students with disabilities, officials said.
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