BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - As schools prepare to return, administrators are also bracing for a potential increase in teacher absenteeism as a result of COVID-19.
That scenario could mean districts may have to lean even heavier on Kelly Education Services, which provide substitutes throughout the year for 12 public school districts on the Coast.
Kelly Education has had teachers in the classroom for 22 years. But this year will be different.
“I can just tell you that we are expecting the number to increase— the usage of substitute teachers to increase. And we are increasing the size of our pool,” said Cheryl Courier, vice president of Kelly Education Southeast Region.
She said dealing with a nationwide teacher shortage for going on 10 years has helped in the overall preparation for the pandemic.
“Substitute teachers are filling in more and more for long-term teachers,” she Courier said. “So, we’re prepared for that.”
Courier added that there has been no problem recruiting people for substitute positions, and that they will be trained to handle in-class as well as virtual teaching.
“Some are a little concerned, but they are asking questions that teachers ask: Am I going to get the right PPE? Am I going to be protected? Are the classrooms going to be clean?”
Courier said Kelly and the districts will team up to make sure the answer to those questions is yes.
But Dr. Sandra Reed, who says the Bay-Waveland School District is still working out plans for substitutes this year, admits her concern even with school protocol training.
“We’re confident that our own staff shares our values in terms of cleanliness, procedures, protocols, social distancing, masks— even in a non-school setting,” she said. “However, when we start engaging with other people outside of our district employees, the situation becomes much more tricky.”
St. James Elementary, a private school in the Biloxi Catholic Diocese, doesn’t use an agency and principal Jennifer Broadus has been busy preparing a substitute list with teachers familiar not only with safety protocols, but other things just as important.
“Most of these would be retired teachers who are familiar with our curriculum; and have subbed here at our school; and are familiar with our students as well,” she said.