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Coronavirus pandemic still creating need for more substitutes in Missouri schools


Public schools in Missouri have been struggling to hire enough substitute teachers since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state has implemented some new policies that may help, but Columbia Public Schools is still reporting that all of its substitute positions are not being filled.

The district has had empty substitute positions since school started, according to the CPS coronavirus dashboard. The week of Aug. 30, only 63.5% of open positions were filled by substitutes. The rest of those were covered by other teachers or aides as they worked on their daily duties.

Noelle Gilzow with Columbia Missouri National Education Association, a teachers' union, said covering when there are not enough substitutes takes away from a teacher's lunch or planning time. The union previously fought for teachers to have a break period for planning.

"When we don't have enough subs to cover, that takes teachers away from their bargain planning time and sometimes it infringes on their duty-free lunch -- and that is something we as a teacher union care about because we bargain for that," Gizlow said. "It takes a lot of what a teacher can accomplish during the day and forces it into their personal time to get those same things accomplished."

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said anyone interested can apply to be a substitute through EduStaff.

"Substitutes are essential to the daily operations of our school buildings," Baumstark said. "Whether it's filling in for a classroom teacher or in a critical support staff role these individuals allow the district to ensure continuity of education and daily operations."

CPS reports 11 staff members with active coronavirus cases and three in quarantine. Sixty-four students in the district have active infections and another 306 are in quarantine.

Paul Katnik with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said there are a few policy changes in play that may alleviate some of the burden on schools to get substitutes.

When the Missouri Board of Education first realized the pandemic was causing a higher demand for substitutes, it temporarily changed the requirements to become a substitute. Rather than training for 60 hours in a classroom, applicants only needed to complete 20 hours of online training. The requirements stayed like that until February, when it halted so the board could study the data.

"The data came back very strong, and districts said they did great," Katnik said. "In some instances, they felt like they did even better than folks with the 60 semester hours. And so, I took that data back to the board in April and they said well, 'Let's make this permanent.'"

In August the Board of Education voted to make the new requirements permanent.

Retired teachers make excellent substitutes, Katnik said, but there is a limit on the number of hours they can work. The governor temporarily waived that limit so retired teachers could help cover classrooms during the pandemic. He recently extended the waiver until December of this year.

"Hopefully, some of them will pitch in and help our school districts at this challenging time," Katnik said.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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