WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A Florida school district is scrambling to find substitute teachers after a large number of full-time teachers chose to stay home as students returned to brick and mortar classes for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The Palm Beach County school district said 944 teachers did not show for work on Monday when students who chose the in-school option returned to classrooms. The number was slightly lower — nearly 894 teachers, or roughly 1 of every 13 — on Tuesday, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Officials said 387 substitute teachers were called in to assist on Tuesday across the district, which consist of 180 campuses. Some 58,000 students were in classrooms on Tuesday, officials said.
“Over the last two days we have averaged around 42% substitute fill rate, which is below our average,” Gonzalo La Cava, the district’s human resources director, told the newspaper.
Many principals asked teachers to supervise two classes at one time, or sent other employees to monitor classrooms where the teacher did not show up, the newspaper reported.
In other cases, students were sent to overflow rooms until their next class begins.
“My son’s Spanish teacher quit over the weekend,” Nicole Britton, mother of a Park Vista High School student, told the newspaper. “He had to go to an ‘overflow room’ on Monday and basically had study hall for almost two hours.”
There is not an easy fix for district officials. The concern about the pandemic that is causing teachers to stay home is also making some substitute teachers uneasy about accepting assignments.
“You can’t find them,” said Stacy Tepper, a veteran math teacher at L.C. Swain Middle School. “We have like 14 or 15 people out on virtual (assignments), and there’s no subs.”
Officials expect some teachers to return to classrooms as they burn through sick days and vacation time. Others are waiting to see if they receive remote-work accommodations. So far, 64 teachers have resigned, 82 have taken leaves of absence and 278 with health complications have been granted remote-work assignments, the district said.
Tuesday's enrollment rose by about 2,000 over Monday's first day of in-person classes, officials said.
Palm Beach County is the nation’s 10th largest school system with 197,000 students and 12,900 teachers.
School districts in neighboring Broward and Miami-Dade counties have not yet returned to classrooms. On Tuesday, Miami-Dade’s school board approved a plan for willing students to return to schools by Oct. 7. Broward County officials pushed back a return to the classroom until mid-October.
On Wednesday, Florida reported 2,590 new cases of COVID-19, substantially down from the peak in mid-July when the state averaged almost 12,000 new cases daily. Also on Wednesday, Florida officials reported 203 deaths from coronavirus. The rolling weekly death toll stands at 97 a day.
There were 2,253 people hospitalized in Florida with the coronavirus late Wednesday morning, 76 less than at the same time on Tuesday.