Substitute teacher shortage forces schools to go virtual

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Governor Raimondo says schools that go virtual are doing a disservice to their students. But parents, teachers, and school administrators say one big obstacle is a substitute teacher shortage they’re calling “insurmountable.”

Some parents say the governor’s comments show she doesn’t understand what’s really happening in schools.

“No one’s ever thrown in the towel on these children,” said parent Ashley Breault of Central Falls. No one’s ever.”

Instead, as cases and quarantines explode, they say the problem is not enough teachers.

“The governor says, ‘Oh, we have all these substitute teachers, they’re signing up and districts are going to have their substitute teachers,’” Breault said. “We’d like to know, where are they?”

That’s the same question administrators are asking in Smithfield, where schools started to go virtual yesterday.

“The governor has spoken to us about these trained substitutes, statewide substitutes,” said Smithfield Schools Superintendent Judy Paolucci. “We haven’t seen a single person in Smithfield. So I don’t think they are being deployed equally throughout the state. It sounds like we should have no problem, but we are having a big problem.”

She says schools are left scrambling.

“There’s been a few days where we will panic, almost, in the beginning part of the day saying, ‘Uh-oh. There’s eight people missing. How are we going to cover this?” Paolucci said.

Administrators themselves are stepping in to teach, and teachers are using their own breaks to fill in for colleagues.

“There’s multiple teachers in our department filling in,” said Amed Torres, a teacher in Providence Public Schools. “We’re all piecing together the work.”

And there are concerns that even higher pay isn’t enough to convince people, including retired educators, to risk their health to substitute teach in-person.

“We could pay all kinds of money, but people don’t want to do it,” Paolucci said.

“At the end of the day, we come here to serve our students and grow the next generation of society,” Torres said. “I’m not coming in here to die.”

The department of education says 135 people have completed the Highlander training program and have already been deployed as substitute teachers, with another 152 in progress.

“Additionally, $2 million in grants were awarded to 39 LEAs to help offset additional sub expenses due to COVID-19,” said a RIDE spokesperson, referring to local education agencies. “Priority was given to communities with high community positivity rates and educator absences and to date, $414,395 has been reimbursed to LEAs.”


Categories: Coronavirus, News, Politics, Rhode Island