South Dakota’s COVID-19 count continues climbing, as Friday data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the state with a seven-day infection rate per 100,000 people of 154.9. This is nearly four times the national rate of 41.5.
So far in the Pierre and Stanley County School Districts, schools have — for the most part — been able to remain open and deliver in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year. But when teachers and other staff members contract COVID-19 and must self-isolate, who picks up the slack?
Schools around the state have been experiencing shortages of substitute teachers, and the local area is not immune to this issue.
“As you monitor school districts around the state, you will find that many of them have revised their normal schedules due to staff shortages more than positive student cases,” Pierre School District Superintendent Kelly Glodt said.
Although the substitute shortage has grown larger, it is not a new problem for school districts.
“The present substitute shortage has been around long before COVID. COVID has exacerbated this reality,” Daniel Hoey, superintendent of Stanley County School District, said. “I am of the opinion that this shortage will be an Achilles’ heel of nearly every school district in the state of South Dakota.”
In the Pierre School District, finding substitutes in the midst of COVID infections and close contact quarantines has also been difficult.
“We have never had an abundance of substitutes in any school year and COVID has made that more challenging for all of us,” Glodt said. “The Pierre School District is fortunate to have some great substitutes who we appreciate very much who substitute for teachers and a variety of other positions such as tutors, aides, cooks, nurses, and secretaries, but we could sure use more to help fill the void when staff are out sick or quarantined or caring for their own children who are sick or quarantine.”
When enough substitutes are not available, other staff are shifted or work extra hours to fill the gaps schools are unable to fill by a substitute, Pierre School District Business Manager Darla Mayer said.
“We do our best to get by, and that is a reality in schools all of the time and not just during the current pandemic,” Mayer said. “It’s our goal to continue to keep kids in in-person school, but we also know we need to remain flexible as situations change related to the COVID pandemic.”
She said the way a position is filled depends on the type of position; for example, a cook’s absence is handled differently than a classroom teacher’s.
“Principals find themselves scrambling some evenings and early mornings to fill positions every year when certain events, staff development activities, or illness takes our full time staff out for a day or extended period. COVID has definitely increased the need for additional subs and who knows what the future will bring,” Glodt said.
In a typical year, Glodt said, principals could also combine classes to make sure students are supervised and continuing to learn, but social distancing prevents that from being a solution this year.
“We attempt to fill every open certified and classified position on any given day with substitutes, but when not available or possible principals have to get creative with the use of their aides, tutors, and other support staff. We are blessed to have very dedicated staff in all areas and all will step up to help any way possible to provide a quality education to our students,” Glodt said.
Glodt added that minor schedule changes “could” be a part of the plan, but would be rare.
Glodt said that in years past, the district adds to its substitute list when college students are home on holiday breaks. Due to COVID, winter breaks at many colleges have been extended, so Glodt said the district anticipates returning college students will provide much needed assistance.
Anyone interested in applying for a substitute position should visit the Pierre School District’s website at https://pierre.k12.sd.us/documents/admin/Substitute_Teacher_Packet.pdf or call the district’s administration office at 605-773-7300. If you are interested in substituting in Stanley County, the application can be found here: https://www.stanleycounty.k12.sd.us/browse/151559.
Glodt said the district offers a bonus payment for substitutes that do so frequently. Additionally, the Pierre School District is still looking for people to fill some open classified positions that have been open since the beginning of the school year — all of which qualify for a hiring bonus, Glodt said.
“We are hopeful we can keep all schools open for all students every day as we know how important it is for them to be in school,” Glodt said.