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In anticipation of a potential substitute teacher shortage as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Missouri State Board of Education has temporarily made it easier for people to qualify for substitute positions.

Instead of completing 60 college credit hours, individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent may now complete a 20-hour, state-approved substitute teacher online training to be eligible for a substitute certificate.

As of Thursday, 734 people have participated in the online training, according to Frontline Education, the vendor administering the training.

The training includes topics such as professionalism, honoring diversity, engaging students, classroom management techniques, basic instructional strategies, supporting students with special needs and working with at-risk youth, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

DESE proposed this additional path after consulting with many teachers and administrators who expressed concerns about a potential substitute shortage for the 2020-21 school year.

The Jefferson City School District has had significantly fewer teacher absences so far than in previous years, Chief of Learning Shelby Scarbrough said. To reduce the number of substitute teachers needed, the district minimized the number of times teachers must be out of the classroom for professional development.

The district uses a third-party vendor, Kelly Services, to recruit substitute teachers.

The alternative way to obtain a substitute certificate has helped, Scarbrough said, and the district is trying to get the word out about this additional path to try to increase the number of substitute teachers.

Since the Jefferson City district uses Kelly Services to recruit substitute teachers, district officials don't know how many subs are on its current list. The News Tribune reached out to Kelly Services but did not receive a response.

The Blair Oaks R-2 School District has 30-35 substitutes on its current list, which about six fewer than last year, Superintendent Jim Jones said.

"Some of that is because some of our subs have taken teaching jobs or they have practicums going or other obligations that prevent them from subbing," Jones said.

The district is trying to recruit more substitute teachers by advertising in weekly newsletters and social media and reaching out to college students who are learning virtually as well as Blair Oaks parents who have teaching experience, Jones said.

Blair Oaks will not have as many professional development days that would require substitutes this year, but teachers may be out more often than usual if quarantined. If the district is short on substitutes, its reopening plan will allow it to make some adjustments. For example, teachers who don't teach core classes could assist with core classes, and schedules would be adjusted to accommodate.

If there is a lack of substitutes and too many teachers are quarantined, some classes may transition to temporary distance learning, Jones said.

Helias Catholic High School is recruiting substitutes via its website, social media and parent newsletter.

In previous years, Helias had about two or three substitutes who were available when needed. This year, there will be at least 25, Communications Director Sandy Hentges said.

Many of these substitutes are Helias alumni who are in their senior year of college or recently completed college, Hentges said.

If Helias runs out of substitutes and too many teachers are quarantined, the school may transition to distance learning.

"Probably the thing that would cause us to go to online most quickly would be if we have too many teachers that are either testing positive or in quarantine and we can't cover all of their classes," she said.

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