Rise in COVID cases puts strain on student attendance, substitute teacher pool | KSTP.com

Rise in COVID cases puts strain on student attendance, substitute teacher pool

Jessica Miles
Updated: November 17, 2021 08:38 PM
Created: November 16, 2021 01:24 PM

As COVID-19 case rates continue to rise across the state, an already dire situation in Minnesota schools is getting even more difficult when it comes to finding substitutes.

"Within the last two weeks, we have really seen an explosion of positive COVID cases," said South Washington County Schools Superintendent Julie Nielsen. "Our low at any point since the beginning of the year was about eight cases at one particular level, and this past week we recorded 144 positive cases at the elementary levels," she explained.

The district isn't requiring quarantining but is implementing other mitigation strategies.

"We are really monitoring transition times, so they (students) are not in the hallways with other students, they are not with other groups when they go to recess and are in different areas, and they eat lunch during separate times of the day and then go back to the classroom and eat," Nielsen said.

The situation is impacting substitute teaching, making it even more challenging to find people to fill in.

"Today, we had 72 positions within our district filled and 78 positions unfilled," Nielsen said.

It was a problem that existed before COVID but has only gotten worse since.

"How dire is the situation? I would say that the situation is really tough, wherever we look across the school system," Nielsen said, which is why district staff members are now being tapped to step into the classroom.

"We released central office staff to go out to the schools and to cover for teachers, so teachers like myself, I am a licensed teacher, we are also deployed to schools to cover for a half-day or a day, and we're all making returns so that hopefully we can keep kids in school," Nielsen said.

Educate Minnesota posts available substitute jobs. We found more than 60 entries in the last few weeks from all over the state.

"I do know that there has been partnership across district lines and sharing of staffing, I do know that they are thinking really innovatively about leveraging existing staff or tapping into community members or families," said Stephanie Graff, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education.

Districts like South Washington County are doing just that, hoping community members will step up to sub.

"Whether it's a half-day or full-day, a couple of days, we do require background checks as well as reference checks, but outside of that, we will work with anyone who is interested in supporting our schools and our students," Nielsen said.

South Washington County is actively recruiting short-call substitute teachers and can help those with a bachelor's degree apply for a license here.

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