The Denver Metro School District faces another challenge in returning to the classroom: When teachers are absent, they cannot find enough substitutes to fill the vacancies.
The shortage existed before this year, but it increased during the pandemic-although regions have expanded the number of substitute teachers by hiring more. The school district has also encountered staffing problems in other areas, such as school nursing and bus drivers.
Three school districts stated that there was no reason for the shortage—some alternatives accepted other jobs, while others were concerned about returning to the classroom due to COVID-19.
As of last week, at least 80 K-12 schools in the state had an outbreak of COVID-19, affecting at least 126 staff.
Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Abbe Smith said in an email: “We really lack substitute teachers this year, and this is irritated by COVID.” The substitute teachers are retired teachers and many of them choose not to come back. “
At this time of the school year, Douglas County School Districts are usually able to fill 90% to 100% of teacher absences with substitutes. Spokesperson Paula Hans said in an email that despite more than 1,000 replacements, the school district could only fill 75% and 85% of the absences in the past week.
She said that most of the unfilled vacancies are in high schools in the area, noting that “…we believe some people are no longer actively replacing them.”
Denver public schools encountered a similar situation when their teachers were ill looking for someone to fill a vacancy. This year only 73% of vacancies were filled by replacements, compared with 93% last year.
Lacey Nelson, head of talent recruitment at DPS, said that the school district increased the fees paid to substitute teachers this school year to address the shortage and started recruiting people with high school diplomas and first-year course licenses issued by the state government.