Knox County Schools’ substitute teacher count could be a road block to keeping students learning in classrooms instead of their homes.
Administrators are asking for help now to prevent that issue, and they’re even offering an incentive for those who work as subs as the pandemic continues to affect the community.
KCS administrators, like many others around the country, are anticipating a shortage if teachers need to quarantine because of COVID-19. KCS hopes to hire 20 to 25 full-time district-wide substitutes in addition to those who sign up for day-to-day work.
If a substitute works 10 to 14 days a month, he or should would receive an additional $300. If the person worked 15 days or more, he or she would receive an additional $500.
These incentives were announced in a Halls High School tweet and a Cedar Bluff Middle School email.
Knox County Education Association president Tanya Coats said teachers are scared of COVID-19 but are still rising to the occasion every day to teach. She said substitutes are needed for COVID-19 concerns but also for everyday life things like dentist or doctor appointments.
In previous years, substitute shortages have led schools to split individual classes among other teachers in the building. But Coats said that’s not feasible now with social distancing.
“This is where I could see the superintendent going: ‘We need to send all kids home,’” Coats said. “We are almost in a skeleton crew. We were already a skeleton, but now we’re starting to lose the bones.”
There were 85 staff members in isolation or quarantine across the district, according to numbers published on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard Tuesday. There were 412 students isolated or quarantined as of Tuesday.
On the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, “substitute availability” was the only metric marked red as of Tuesday. According to the Halls High post, there were 1,317 active substitutes as of Aug. 25. But only 5% to 10% of those people work on a given day and some have said they don’t plan to accept jobs because of safety concerns.
Teachers who are not sick but must quarantine — and can still teach their class remotely — need substitute teachers to physically be in their classrooms.
“These teachers are continuing to teach their students virtually, but it has created an increased demand for substitutes, as we must have an adult to supervise the classroom,” the post said. “We anticipate this demand could become significant as the school year continues, due to the sudden nature of how teachers are quarantined.”
How isolation recommendations work
On Tuesday, Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan said not everyone in the classroom of an infected individual would necessarily be determined a close contact required to quarantine. She said, like all other settings in the county, close contacts are defined as people who came within six feet of an infected person for more than 10 minutes.
Buchanan said seating charts can be helpful in determining who has been close to the infected individual.
There are 83 school nurses who have been trained to do contact tracing under the authority of the Knox County Health Department.
Since releasing its reopening plan on July 15, the district has said it will transition to virtual learning if needed. Student attendance, which is factored into how much money the district receives from the state, is being taken for both in-person students and virtual students.
It’s possible some individual classes or grade levels would have to switch to virtual temporarily.
“Another way that we will be addressing this will be to move specific classrooms or grade levels at individual schools to red as needed for a quarantine period (approximately two weeks),” the post said. “We know this will be difficult for some families, but it will give us the flexibility to address specific challenges at specific schools.”
Those wishing to work as substitute teachers must submit an online application, have professional references, pass a drug test and be fingerprinted. Those without a teaching license must also complete substitute teacher training and all applicants must complete an orientation. Some of these steps have fees.
The district has instructions on how to become a substitute at www.knoxschools.org. Applicants can call 865-594-1929 for more information.