Sick teachers, shortage of subs straining Leon County Schools amid COVID surge
‘We cannot … ignore the impact this is having on student learning,’ the teachers’ union head says
Tallahassee Democrat | By Ana Goñi-Lessan | January 20, 2022
As COVID cases increase in Leon County, so does the school district’s need for substitute teachers.
In the past three days, there have been 222 requests for substitute teachers in Leon County Schools.
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, there were 229 requests for substitute teachers for Friday alone. This makes up about 10% of the 2,241 teachers employed by the district.
“We have not reached critical mass yet on the possibility of closing due to staffing issues,” said Chris Petley, a spokesperson for the district. “We continue to recruit substitutes. We will make sure to communicate with our parents so they are never caught off guard.”
Petley said the district has over 300 substitute teachers currently in the system. At one time before the pandemic, they had about 500.
Scott Mazur, president of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association, said he was contacted last week by teachers who were concerned about the lack of substitutes.
Classes were split and students sent to other classes while teachers were losing their planning time to cover other classes.
“We cannot continue to ignore the impact that this is having on student learning,” Mazur said. “The entire budget needs to be looked at to see what financially can be done to incentivize individuals to stay in their positions as teachers, support staff and bus drivers. We’re losing great people at all different levels for various reasons.”
Grandparents asked to consider subbing
In the fall, district leaders said the system was facing a shortage of substitute teachers and encouraged all schools to ask parents, grandparents and others in the community to consider becoming substitute teachers.
When Superintendent Rocky Hanna was elected, he increased substitute pay from $10 to $12 per hour. During the pandemic, pay was again increased to $14. In October, the district upped wages once more to $15.
The district also agreed to pay for fingerprinting and training. Applicants, who used to need 60 hours of college credit or an associate’s degree to apply, now only need a high school diploma.
Though employees, including teachers, are required to wear masks if they cannot socially distance, the district can no longer require students to wear them. That’s because the Florida Legislature made a state law out of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order that prevents school officials from imposing vaccine or mask requirements on students.
“As a public school system, our focus is serving the community, which means that we must do what is in the best interest of the community,” Mazur said.
“When you have individuals choosing based off of their personal beliefs and not what is for the greater good of all, we find ourselves in situations that should be no-brainers,” he added.
At a press conference in early January, Hanna said the district will strongly encourage students to wear a mask and employees and students to get vaccinated and boosted.
Looking for a COVID-19 test in Leon County? Here is a list of all local testing locations
As of Thursday morning, there were 148 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the city and county. Health workers at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) were treating 88, while Capital Regional Health Center had 60 infected patients.
Of TMH’s 88 patients, 33 are vaccinated and 59 are considered “incidental,” meaning they were receiving treatment for other illness or injuries when they happened to test positive for COVID-19.
There have been 13 COVID-related deaths in the new year, as of Wednesday afternoon. TMH reported seven and CRMC reported six. For December, TMH reported six deaths and CRMC reported four.
Christopher Cann contributed.