State education system reeling from outbreak

EO MEDIA GROUP - School districts are reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Oregon is relaxing requirements to become a substitute schoolteacher in the face of a widespread shortage currently stretching educators thin.

Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission Executive Director Anthony Rosilez told Pamplin Media Group Monday that the licensing agency will file a temporary rule in order to implement an emergency substitute teaching license.

In December 2019, he said, the state had at least 8,300 active substitute licenses, although that number does not include retirees and other part-time school staff with active teaching licenses who can also substitute.

By December, that number dropped to 5,500, and this month, Rosilez said, the state is down to around 4,738 substitute teachers.

The emergency rule, which Rosilez said he hoped to finalize this week, will relax a requirement for a bachelor's degree.

"It temporarily relaxes the specific higher education requirement of the traditional substitute license but mandates impactful administrative support for the emergency licensed sub," Rosilez said. "This license will allow school districts to reach a wider pool of potential substitute teachers. In terms of the number of people who are applying for sub licenses, we can see that number is significantly down."

New licenses can take up to seven weeks to process.

In the Banks School District, which has about 1,050 students in rural Washington County, middle school principal Darla Waite-Larkin said she submits to a third-party contractor called Education Staffing Solutions, for around 10 positions each day, some of which are unfilled staff positions. She said before the pandemic, the district traditionally has been able to fill positions open for hire and therefore not rely on substitutes as the pandemic hinders in-person learning.

"It is a last-minute fix, and there isn't much time to prepare for a quality lesson. We have also had to combine classes and change the lesson plan for the day to provide a lesson for students who might be in different content classes or at a different place in the curriculum," Waite-Larkin said. "We have heard from a few of the substitutes that we have used in the past, that they are not interested in coming into the schools this year due to concern about the virus. I think this is the same for bus drivers and other positions. Most schools in the state are in the same predicament that we are."

The minimum pay rate for licensed substitute teachers, according to state law, is about $195 per day, but it can vary by district.

"The trend we are seeing is we are not filling our absences with certified substitutes on a consistent basis. We're only in week three. You see mere absences in winter," Banks Superintendent Jeff Leo said. "We usually fill in-house or have an administrator sub. If a spot doesn't get filled, we ask teachers during prep time if they can cover that class. We do the best we can."

For information on becoming a substitute in Oregon schools, contact the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission at contact.tspc@tspc.oregon.gov.

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