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Central Texas teachers filling in as substitutes amid COVID-19 absences

In addition to a large number of staff absences, Round Rock ISD said it is also dealing with a shortage of substitutes to fill those positions.

ROUND ROCK, Texas — Round Rock ISD is dealing not only with a shortage of teachers but also a shortage of substitutes to fill in for them. 

On Friday, Jan. 14, RRISD provided KVUE with staff absence numbers for the previous day. According to RRISD, on Thursday, there were a total of 579 teachers, nurses or librarians absent. The total number of absent positions filled with substitutes on Thursday was 217, or about 40.6% of the total absences.

They later released Friday, Jan. 14, numbers, there were 800 staff absences. The total number of absent positions filled with substitutes on Friday was 251, or about 35% of the total absences. 

The district said it currently has a shortage of substitutes, "mostly due to those in our system not electing to take job assignments right now," according to district spokesperson Jenny Caputo. To deal with that shortage, the district is doing a couple of things.

RELATED: Round Rock ISD students planning walkout over lack of virtual learning amid omicron surge

Caputo said in its elementary schools, RRISD has had instances of breaking up a class and putting students in other teachers' classes for the day. At the secondary level, if a substitute isn't available, RRISD teachers may elect to oversee a class during their planning periods. Caputo said in both of those instances, teachers receive additional pay.

RRISD also has other campus staff, such as instructional coaches and assistant principals, serving as guest educators. District employees at RRISD's central office are also volunteering to cover classes. For example, Caputo said RRISD's chief of teaching and learning taught middle school on Thursday.

They're trying to work around this staffing shortage as best they can. However, many parents KVUE spoke to didn't know this was happening in the district. They're asking for more transparency. 

"It's the parents who should know if their kids are not getting a full education because they're being crammed in with teachers or subs or they're not learning," said Jennifer Flok White, RRISD parent. 

Lorena, another Round Rock ISD parent, said she pulled her daughter out of class for a couple of days. She said since winter break, her kindergartener has only seen her teacher once.

"They're just doing worksheets and staying busy," said Lorena. "Didn't seem like there was just doing much because they're having subs and having to move everybody around."

This staffing situation comes at the same time that hundreds of RRISD students have signed a petition requesting that the district offer remote learning amid the current COVID-19 surge. The students have said if their goals are not met, they plan to stage a walkout on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 20.

KVUE reached out to other districts in the area on Friday. This story will be updated as more information comes in:

Austin ISD

AISD said on Monday that it had 506 substitute requests (teacher absences); on Tuesday, 479; on Wednesday, 486; and on Thursday, 561. AISD said it currently has 1,393 substitutes in its pool and between approximately 30% to 35% are actively accepting open assignments and filling vacancies.

Similar to RRISD, AISD said it is using its substitute pool and its central office staff is stepping in, all the way up to Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde. 

RELATED: Austin ISD increasing pay for substitute teachers, now accepting those with less education

Del Valle ISD

On Friday, Del Valle ISD reported 112 classroom teacher absences, and 48 subs were in the district.

When fully staffed, the district has just over 800 total teachers.

Hays CISD

The district reported 442 teachers out sick on Friday, with only a 43% fill rate. 

"We have campus and central office staff filling in," a district spokesperson said. "Also, we are paying teachers extra-duty pay if they use their normal non-duty period to fill in for a class."

Leander ISD

Leander ISD reported 600 absences that require a sub (teacher and instructional assistants). The district noted that not all 600 are COVID-related. 

The district has 950 active subs with 300 subs working Friday.

Pflugerville ISD

On Friday, the district said it had 317 teacher absences, 187 substitutes (guest educators) and 4,401 students.

"When we are short on substitutes, we have Teacher Classroom Coverage where we split up classes without a teacher or substitute among the current teachers in attendance," the district said. "We provide additional pay for those teachers taking on additional students. Additionally, other campus staff members and district administrators may serve as substitutes when needed. We are continuously working on increasing our substitute pool. Beginning substitutes earn $120 per day, and this can go up based on certification and the number of days worked. To qualify to serve as a substitute in PfISD, you must be at least 21 years of age and have a high school diploma. All applicants must complete the online substitute application and attend a Guest Educator orientation."

Lake Travis ISD

Lake Travis ISD said on Friday there were a total of 250 absences. This includes both teachers and staff. 

They called on substitutes but only had a fill rate of 40%. Meaning, of the absent teachers, they could only fill 40% of those vacancies. The classes that didn't get a sub had split classes, and other arrangements, said Lake Travis ISD spokesperson.

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