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'It's almost like we're strongly encouraged not to be out' | Central Texas teachers say substitute shortage is a dire issue

In 2020, school districts bumped the pay for substitutes to lure in more applicants.

AUSTIN, Texas — Central Texas teachers said they're under a lot of pressure to stay in school because of a substitute staffing shortage. Some teachers told KVUE they can't take a sick day without worrying about who will cover their classes. 

Teachers said part of the problem stems from people being scared of going inside school buildings and school districts, like Leander and Austin ISD, are feeling the impacts. Leander ISD said, as of Monday, more than 300 teachers are out of the classroom and are quarantining because of COVID-19 exposure or for testing positive.

"We are also now having subs who need to be quarantined, as well as having a number of subs who are not comfortable going into the classroom at this time due to increasing COVID numbers," said a spokesperson for LISD. "The pay increase did help; however, it is overshadowed with the risk of being exposed to COVID." 

RELATED: Austin ISD increases pay rates for substitute teachers, teaching assistants

Austin ISD also saw an increase in applications after the substitute pay raise was implemented in November 2020, but they're seeing a decrease in day-to-day substitutes.

"We still believe that there is a need for a more robust substitute pool so that we can best support our staff and students," said AISD in a statement. "Currently, AISD has 922 substitutes active in our system and 83 applications in process."

AISD said they are continuing efforts to recruit, train, support and retain high-quality substitutes for our campuses.

"The sub shortage is dire issue," said Franchesca Mejia, a PfIugerville ISD teacher.

"We literally find ourselves like yelling out in the hallway, 'I have to go to the bathroom!' and somebody is like standing in between the two classrooms to make sure we can actually just go to the bathroom," said Michelle Cardenas, a Del Valle ISD pre-K dual-language teacher. 

RELATED: Leander ISD partners with substitute staffing company to help fill empty positions

"We are left scrambling in the morning making sure kids are covered, and Michelle is talking about going to the bathroom. It's like, 'Oh, that's a thing. Like I didn't know that's a thing," said Mejia.

Mejia and Cardenas are teachers for different school districts and are experiencing the same kind of problems. They both said this is an issue for parents, teachers, staff and students.

"It's almost like we're being strongly encouraged not to be out. Which could cause problems because then teachers or staff members become sick and thinking, 'Oh, it's just allergies, it's just a cold,' but it could be COVID," said Cardenas.

"They're going to go to work because teachers have been pushed to go to work in rain, sickness, snow, ice, the whole time," said Mejia.

Cardenas and Mejia said they hope vaccinations and stricter safety protocols in school buildings can help bring in more staff. 

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