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Substitute teachers in high demand as school year nears

WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa, substitute teachers were already in short supply in Iowa. Now, as students get ready to head back to school, they are even more in demand.

"We could be looking at a teacher shortage and a shortage of support personnel who work in our public schools this fall," Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said.

Beranek said the majority of the state's substitute teachers are older, retired teachers. They are considered to be at risk fo getting COVID-19.

"They are very concerned about what kind of procedures or protocols are in place in districts," he said. "They don't want to put themselves at risk or their family members when they go home at the end of the day."

Some local schools have taken steps to attract more substitute teachers. Holy Family Catholic Schools in Dubuque recently trained 30 new substitute teachers to make sure they are covered this school year.

"If there was a circumstance where a teacher had to teach from home, they could teach from home while a certified sub is in the classroom," Senior Administrator Philip Bormann said.

In a recent proclamation, Governor Kim Reynolds took some steps to address the potential shortage. She changed requirements to make it easier to substitute teach. A few of those changes include only requiring an associate’s degree, lowering the age requirement to 20, and teacher assistants can now substitute teach if they have a para-educator certificate. 

Beranek said he believes loosening restrictions will lead to a decrease in the quality of education.

"Here in Iowa, we take great pride in the high-quality education that we provide to our students," he said. "In my opinion, this is a band-aid for a situation that needs to have a bigger, broader conversation. And that is whether our schools are healthy and safe environments for everyone to return."

With everything going on, Beranek said being a substitute teacher is going to be particularly challenging this school year.

"They're not going to have the tools in their toolbox to answer questions that come up for them daily," he said. "Just as substitute teachers, and now having to put on the added pressure of making sure that those environments are healthy and safe for our kids. It's going to be a heavy lift."

The ISEA said it is also concerned about the support staff and who will fill in for them if they get COVID-19.

"Not only is it the substitutes in our classroom, but the substitutes who will be an integral part of the entire system functioning anyway, because the demands have just increased," Beranek said. "It takes a whole litany of individuals to run a building, and there are no substitutes for administrators."

With substitutes in such high demands, they could work in different schools or different school districts with a different return to learn plan.

With just a few weeks until students return to the classroom, Beranek said he is worried about whether the cleaning procedures are adequate to keep both students and staff safe.

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Daniel Perreault

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