KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As a new school year approaches, teachers are feeling uncertain about returning to the classroom with the novel coronavirus spreading through communities in and around Kansas City, Missouri.
Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for Kansas National Education Association, a union which represents and advocates for teachers in the state, said teachers want to be with students in traditional classrooms, but they want to do it safely.
“We can’t stay in school if we ignore what’s growing out there with this pandemic. We can’t stay in school if we have a shortage of teachers who are sick. We can’t stay in school if we have a shortage of substitutes. We can’t do those things,” Baltzell said. “So that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to look to the medical professionals and for everybody to work together to do their part.”
Around Kansas City, districts like Blue Valley, North Kansas City, Liberty and Hickman Mills said they’re not experiencing teacher shortages. Liberty said its turnover rate is lower than years past, perhaps because people who have a job during the pandemic want to keep it.
Kansas City Public Schools said it saw fewer applicants than usual for math and science positions, but was able to fill its vacancies from those candidates.
Across the state line, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools said it still has openings in math, science and special education. Baltzell said those areas have been hard to fill for about the last decade.
“We’re certainly seeing a shortage in particular areas and this pandemic is going to make that even worse,” Baltzell said.
The Kansas NEA and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education both predict schools will need more substitutes than ever this school year.
“Where we think we’ll probably see an increase in needs is in the last-minute call-offs,” explained Keith Elliott, the state lead of operations in Kansas and Missouri for Kelly Education.
The organization hires substitute teachers, custodians, clerks, and other school-related positions. It sends staff to schools which contract its services. Center, KCPS, Shawnee Mission, Liberty, Hickman Mills and North Kansas City are some of the districts which rely on substitutes from Kelly Education. Blue Valley and Kansas City, Kansas, hire their own substitutes.
Elliott said before the pandemic a district might need up to 200 substitute teachers on one day.
New hires have been steady for Kelly. A survey of its substitute teachers showed 80 percent will come back to work. Another 18 percent plan to return so long as districts take health and safety precautions. Only 2 percent said they didn’t want to return to the classroom because of COVID-19.
Many substitutes are retired teachers. Their age makes them more at-risk to experience severe effects of COVID-19.
“I’m very confident we’re going to be able to support the needs of the market,” Elliott said.
Right now, Kelly is training substitutes to be able to use virtual platforms of the districts they’ll be working with.
Hickman Mills is one of several districts which will have substitutes work exclusively at one building. That way they’re not exposed to new people every day.
“I think the building subs concept has really gained a lot of momentum this year,” Elliott said.
Education leaders are trying to find ways to ensure districts have enough substitutes. From increasing pay to modifying the qualifications to become a sub.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering changing the requirements to become a substitute teacher. The changes would allow more people to qualify.
Kansas City, Kansas, launched its own training program to better prepare substitutes for their role.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives teachers an extra 80 hours of paid time off for COVID-related issues. The benefit does not apply to Kelly Education employees, but the company said it complies with all medical leave employment laws
Here are some resources if you’re interested in becoming a substitute teacher. They earn about $125 per day in the Kansas City area:
- Call Kelly Education or visit its website: 816-521-6786 or kellyeducationstaffing.us
- Kansas City Kansas Public Schools is hosting virtual interviews with substitutes on August 5 and 12. Click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- In Blue Valley, you can click here to find job openings.
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