As the omicron COVID case counts skyrocket and more students, teachers and staff isolate to prevent the spread, local schools are scrambling to find enough substitute teachers.
On Friday, Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Cook notified parents that some classes and some schools may need to revert to remote learning due to a lack of staffing.
On an average school day, the High Desert Education Service District finds 65 substitutes for licensed teachers and classified staff who call in sick in local schools.
Last week the demand for substitute teachers increased dramatically.
On the first day back from winter vacation, the district asked for 71 subs… they got 67.
The sub requests have gone up just about every day.
On Friday last week, the district asked for 141 subs and got 122.
Today, the district asked for 120 and got 99.
And that’s not including subs needed for various classified staffing positions outside the classroom.
“This past week has been different. We have definitely seen this new COVID variant hit Central Oregon,” said Skip Offenhauser Executive Director of Elementary Programs for BLS. “We have seen an increase in the number of subs that are needed to the point that the ESD, as great as the work as they are doing, they just don’t have the bodies they need to deploy to the districts that they serve.”
Deschutes County reported more than 3,500 COVID cases last week – up from 1,400 the week before.
But while the sub requests are going up, the district’s COVID dashboard shows relatively few staff members out due to COVID exposure.
On Monday the dashboard indicated 23 staff members were currently quarantined due to COVID exposure (as well as 447 students.)
Managers at the Bend-La Pine Schools admin building in downtown Bend are putting projects and management responsibilities aside and filling in as needed.
“You may come from an elementary teaching background but our need is at the high school so we need you to go to a high school and be a sub there,” he said. “We have instructional coaches, behavioral coaches, different people in many different roles. They all have teaching experience. We all know what our job is: Our job is to support schools and support kids.”
Offenhauser says if schools can maintain in-person learning for the next three weeks, he believes the worst will pass.
He says it will take a team effort by substitute teachers, administrators filling in in the schools and the community maintaining safety protocols, to keep students in school.
“Everybody is rallying behind us. I think we are going to make this happen, but if we don’t we are honest with our public and our parents, we do have a plan B. Dr. Cook has already announced we could go to remote learning. It’s not what we want to do.”
Another way the community can help keep kids in school is to sign up as substitute teachers with the High Desert Education Service District.
People with bachelor’s degrees and who enjoy working with children are encouraged to apply.