Despite substitute shortages across the nation, local districts are doing well

ST. GEORGE — Across the nation, some schools are scrambling to find replacements for teachers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, certification requirements are even being lowered to help recruit substitutes.

A Washington County School District student poses for a first day of school photo in his mask, St. George, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Amy Chesley, St. George News

Early retirements and leaves of absence are also causing further strain in places that were already dealing with teacher and substitute shortages. In Salt Lake County, more than 80 teachers have either resigned or retired early due to concerns with the coronavirus. More than half of those happened in the Granite School District, where all of the district’s teachers were reportedly fined $1,000 for failing to give 30 days notice.

Steven Dunham, district communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News they have not had any issues with substitutes since reopening. The district uses Education Management and Staffing Solutions, a nationwide company that supports local districts with their substitute needs.

Compared to 2019, the district had 22 more employees retire this year, he said, but they can’t say whether that has to do with the issues related to the pandemic.

“That’s not one of the questions we ask,” he said. “People retire when they’re ready to retire.”

Joseph Fitzgerald, vice president of operations for the mountain west region of Education Management and Staffing Solutions, told St. George News they are seeing shortages around the country, but Washington County is doing well. Even still, they are actively recruiting substitute teachers.

Signs saying “My teacher misses me,” are delivered to Horizon elementary students, Washington City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Emily Holt, St. George News

“We’ve lost some of our employees that are higher at risk,” he said, adding that they have also seen some of their substitute pool drained by the extended summer break.

“We’ve lost more people over that length of time than we did on a normal summer,” he said. “We’re still seeing how that fallout is going to be.”

He said they have dozens of openings available and encourages anyone interested to apply.

In the Iron County School District, superintendent Shannon Dulaney told St. George News there are a couple of dynamics at play when it comes to substitutes.

“With COVID, you have some fear with our substitutes as they hear rumors about cases that are happening in our schools,” she said. “Again, I want to stress the word ‘rumors’ because we’ve only had one teacher and one student so far diagnosed — neither of them have contracted it in our schools.”

Dulaney said there is also fear being felt by full-time employees, which has been slowly dissipating since they’ve been back in school. As it stands, they have never struggled with a shortage of substitutes.

Every Friday, the nurses will be reporting cases and quarantines, and then they will share that with Kelly Services who provides their substitutes, she said. As far as any early retirements, that hasn’t been the case for Iron County, and for those who are high-risk, they have provided accommodations.

David Heaton, public information officer for the Southwest Public Health Department, told St. George News that since reopening, there have been approximately 40 cases of COVID-19 within the five-county region. This number includes all public K-12 schools as well as universities, and a large majority of the cases have been students with a few staff and teachers, he said.

“There have been some classrooms who have quarantined when there has been a positive case. The good news so far is that we haven’t had any outbreaks from a school,” he said. “None of these positive cases were apparently infected in the school setting. They were outside. And any quarantines that have taken place have been out of caution. So, so far we haven’t any school-related outbreaks or transmissions.”

The number of cases so far is about what they were expecting in students, Heaton said, which hasn’t yet seemed to jump.

Photo illustration of children going to school in masks. | Photo by puhimec, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“But of course we don’t know– as the next few weeks unfold — what that will look like,” he said, “but it’s as expected as far as continued cases. We’re not yet seeing school-based infections.”

In terms of flu season, Heaton said they usually start seeing cases flare around the end of October and continuing through November and December.

“We’re really encouraging people to get their flu shots this year, even if they haven’t before, just so, again, we don’t overwhelm the healthcare system because we may still be dealing with COVID-19 at the same time.”

Heaton said a major factor in helping suppress the spread has been with schools doing their best with precautions, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“There’s also always the hope, which may be indicated by the decrease in the demand of testing in our area, that the infection may be slowing. It’s just too early to tell.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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