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Sarasota County Schools recruiting substitute teachers, some fear shortages

Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – The first day of school for students in Sarasota County is still on track for August 31. As of this week, 41 teachers district-wide plan on taking a leave of absence rather than going back into their classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sarasota County School District is now actively recruiting substitute teachers ahead of the new school year. The district says it does not have a shortage of substitute teachers but notes there is always a need for more.

“Our teacher sub pool is at its usual level (approximately 400) but we are always looking for substitutes to add to the sub pool,” a district spokesperson said. “There is an ongoing need for subs, for various reasons, throughout every school year.”

Though district leaders say they’re not facing a shortage, school board member Eric Robinson said otherwise when 8 On Your Side asked him about the substitute situation as it stands right now.

“My best understanding is that it is critical,” said Robinson. “If we don’t have enough subs to backfill teachers as they get sick or as they leave because they don’t feel safe, it is going to become critical.”

Robinson says there have even been discussions about administrators who used to be teachers filling in as subs.

“I think it’s going to be more of a widespread problem than the administration actually thinks it is,” said the school board member.

Several substitute teachers have told 8 On Your Side they’re not comfortable going back into the classroom yet.

“There are so many sicknesses that come on when you start school as it is. You have the flu, you have colds, you have kids sneezing and coughing and I just feel like with this virus going on, it is going to be so much worse,” said substitute teacher Meryl Sherwood.

Sherwood is not going back to sub this school year. She will instead be working with her daughter doing distance learning.

“I just don’t think it is worth it right now. Especially if just one person gets sick and then you bring it home to your family. It’s just very dangerous and very scary,” said Sherwood.

Robinson says a large portion of substitute teachers in Sarasota County are retired teachers.

“They are very torn because they wanna be in the classroom. They know how important it is. It is not a job, it is a calling for a lot of them, and so they are really concerned,” said Robinson. “They feel like they are choosing their lives over a job, and a lot of them are choosing, rightfully so, their lives and their families’ lives.”

For substitute teacher Wilson Pava, the decision to go back into the classroom hasn’t been an easy one.

“I kind of don’t want to go back, but I kind of want to go back because I know that subs are in deep need and if there was a sub shortage before, that is only going to get worse,” said Pava. “I don’t look forward to it. I am doing it more out of a sense of duty and commitment more than anything else.”

To limit exposure, Pava is limiting his teaching jobs to one or two schools.

“Before all of this, I was going down to North Port and all the way up to Sarasota High and literally everything in between. I did elementary school, middle school, a lot of high schools, so I was really running all over the place and I definitely don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore,” said Pava.

According to the district’s flyer, a bachelor’s degree is required to be a substitute teacher in Sarasota County. The daily rate starts at $119.58.

Requirements include:

  • Online instructional application with current resume, two supervisor references, and official transcripts
  • Drug test and fingerprinting
  • Sub Endorsement Program and/or Virtual Substitute Orientation

Those interested can learn more on the school district’s website.

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