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Hawaii schools have substitute teacher shortage amid COVID

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 4:27 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii public schools are having trouble finding substitute teachers amid lingering concerns about the coronavirus.

Of a daily average of 1,200 requests for substitute teachers statewide, nearly 150 go unfilled, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported, citing state Department of Education data. The shortfall is occurring even though the department has a pool of 3,200 active substitutes.

Sierra Knight is one of those substitutes. The 67-year-old retired teacher from California now lives in Kula, Maui. She has not accepted a substitute job this year and, she said, neither have a lot of her seasoned substitute-teaching friends.

“They don’t want to be exposed to COVID,” she said.

Knight, who helps moderate a Facebook page for department substitute teachers, said many feel the agency has not done an adequate job of making schools safe from the virus.

Superintendents, principals and vice principals have been filling in because of the substitute shortage, according to the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Educational assistants and other staff members pulled from their regular duties are also subbing.

“Ultimately, the students are losing out on desperately needed instruction this year,” said Osa Tui Jr., association president. “When there are no substitutes, some of our kids get herded into either a classroom or an auditorium, and they’re just babysat by an adult who has to watch multiple classes and is not providing any type of instruction.”

The state Board of Education, anticipating hiring difficulties during the pandemic, lowered the minimum qualification for classroom substitutes from a bachelor’s degree to a high school diploma.

Even so, the department’s 87.7% substitute fill rate, administrators said, is some 10 percentage points lower than in previous years.

Sean Bacon, interim assistant superintendent of the department’s Office of Talent Management, said his staff, among other things, is reaching out to other unions to find more substitutes. They have also reached out to UNITE Here Local 5 to see whether any workers in the economically battered tourism sector are looking for a job.

Ultimately he hopes the problem will diminish as the islands continue to experience lower COVID-19 case counts and as more people are vaccinated. On Monday, Hawaii’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases stood at 115, down 4% from two weeks ago. Statewide, 71.3% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

“Hopefully, that will help people feel they can go back to substitute teaching,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.