Can College Students Help Fill Vt. Schools' Substitute Teaching Needs?

Some districts report they are concerned they may need more subs for the fall

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Preparing for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year has some administrators in Vermont school districts struggling to find substitute teachers.

South Burlington High School, as have schools across Vermont, told its teachers, staff, and students that COVID-19 means the days of powering through symptoms like a mild sore throat are over.

"If you don't feel well, you need to stay home," Patrick Burke, the principal of SBHS, said, recounting a message he gave to his school community.

Starting Sept. 8, when students in the city will learn through a mix of in-person and remote classes, the principal expects he'll need more substitute teachers.

Many in his existing pool are older, often at-risk retirees, so they bowed out during the pandemic, Burke said. That had him asking college students in a tweet to step up—ones from the city who are back home living with mom and dad while their university campuses are teaching online.

"Their classes may be more flexible and so they have some time during the day," Burke told NECN and NBC10 Boston. "They know the school, they know the culture, in many cases they may know the teacher for whom they're subbing."

Nearly two hours to the south in the Slate Valley Unified School District, administrators are running ads for new subs and boosting their pay.

In a typical year, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said she'd have a sub-list of 60-80, but this year it's just 40. He noted some college students are applying for the positions.

Those applicants could well be called on, since Slate Valley's pre-K-8th grade will be in-person five days a week and subs will be limited to supporting specific buildings—not working district-wide, as usual.

"We're also thinking that through the wearing of masks and the aggressive cleaning we're going to be doing in the buildings and classrooms, overall illness should be down," Olsen-Farrell said hopefully.

The Vermont Agency of Education said Tuesday it expects districts are right now sorting out their staffing plans, with layers of what-ifs.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to provide additional opportunities for students to access resources when their regular teacher's not available," Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said, referring to the ability to use technology and remote learning as aids to traditional forms of education.

Some Vermont school districts, including Olsen-Farrell's, are also worried about being able to find substitute school nurses for the fall. College students really can't help there, though, because they wouldn't have the required licenses.

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