Broward County Public Schools faces unprecedented lack of substitutes


Carolina Ochoa Lozano

Hundreds of students are housed in the auditorium each period due to a lack of substitute teachers.

Haley Jackson, Section editor

COVID-19 has impacted Broward County Public Schools, and other counties across the state, in more ways than one. From transitioning to distance learning, monitoring COVID-19 cases, adjusting back to learning fully in-person, losing state funding due to COVID-19 policies and so much more, the district has faced a wide variety of issues resulting from the pandemic. Included in the many issues, one of the largest has been the lack of substitute teachers in schools.

According to an EdWeek Research Center survey published in October of 2021, more than three-quarters of district leaders and principals across the country are experiencing moderate staffing shortages this year.

15 percent are experiencing “very severe” shortages and 25 percent feel they are “severe.” While BCPS is facing staff shortages in numerous categories such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, one of their most urgent shortages is their need for 5,000 more substitute teachers.

With substitute teachers previously making less than $15 an hour, the district is competing with many fast food chains and other minimum wage jobs that may require less than that of a substitute, making the hiring process more difficult. In addition to lower work-related requirements, BCPS substitutes do not receive employee benefits like they would get working for McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A or other jobs willing to pay $15 an hour.

With the support for increasing minimum wage on rise, BCPS is struggling to stay afloat in this competitive market. In hopes of increasing the number of available substitutes, BCPS has increased substitute hourly pay from $11 an hour to $15 an hour.

In addition to low pay, many credit the increasing lack of substitute teachers to the high risk that comes with the position. While children as young as five years old are currently eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Dec. 10 data from the Florida Department of Health details that only 11% of Florida children ages 5-11 are vaccinated against COVID-19. The same data also revealed that 57% of Florida children ages 12-19 are vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I think the district can recruit more substitutes by sending us to school when COVID[-19] rates go down and paying [substitutes] better,” junior Noldine Belizaire said.

Adding to the hesitancy by hirees, many school districts across the state do not have mask mandates in place. As of Nov. 1, on all BCPS high school campuses and district offices, students, teachers and other staff were no longer required to comply with the district’s mask mandate. Instead, masks were “strongly recommended..

On Nov. 18, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed new legislation into effect banning masks mandates until June of 2023. After the Gov. DeSantis’ new legislation was signed into effect, BCPS directed all staff and students to follow the new legislation.

According to Susan T. Rockelman, BCPS Director of Talent Acquisition & Instructional Operations, the district is currently working with 2,434 substitutes. Due to this low number the district and schools face many challenges when a teacher is absent, especially due to COVID-19 exposure or a positive case. With many teachers following CDC guidelines to stay at home when awaiting COVID-19 test results or due to a positive test result, teachers are likely to be absent from school for days at a time. Thus, requiring a recurring need for a substitute teacher for multiple days.

According to a national 2021 EdWeek Research Center survey, slightly more than three quarters of survey respondents claim to be facing trouble specifically hiring substitute teachers.


Hitting close to home
On a smaller scale, the need for substitute teachers has become more and more prevalent at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Due to the lack of available substitutes, the auditorium has become a warehouse to host multiple classes, making it hard for students to be assigned classwork. These students are normally monitored by a member of school administration or one substitute.

With students from a variety of grades and classes in one large room, little to no instruction is able to occur. The auditorium and gym lack classroom desk making it harder for students to complete any form of written work. Many times, an administrator or a substitute will take attendance at the beginning of the class period. After that, they sit in the back of the auditorium and monitor the students until the class period ends.

Many students do not have assigned work to do from their teacher, leaving much room for this time to become a “free period.” Students often use this time to walk around the auditorium, socialize, scroll on social media, or watch television via their phone or laptop.

In addition, the auditorium has also become a safe haven for students to skip class at. If a student decides to skip class, they normally would spend that period hiding from security. Now, students revert to the auditorium to be with friends; many times they are able to go through the class period undetected since the staff member monitoring students is likely not familiar with every student.

Many students also contact other teachers to persuade them to contact the auditorium to allow the student to spend the class period in their classroom. All of these effects of having a lack of substitute teachers point back to one major issue: students are now getting less and less instructional time in class.

To be eligible to work as a BCPS substitute, applicants must be 18 years of age or older, provide a copy of a transcript with at least 60 semester hours from an accredited institution, complete an online application, provide letters of recommendations from previous employers, obtain fingerprint clearance and attend an online substitute training/on-boarding course. From start to finish the process to become a substitute takes about four weeks.

BCPS is hoping to hire many more additional substitutes to combat this shortage. By increasing substitute pay to $15 an hour, there is hope that the district is able to combat this shortage.