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Superintendent says Billings school district struggling to find substitute teachers

Posted at 2:05 PM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 16:05:55-05

Billings School District 2 is renewing a call for substitute teachers to keep in-person classes in session and avoid classroom or school building shutdowns, Superintendent Greg Upham said Tuesday.

With the help of the CARES Act (federal coronavirus relief money), the district was able to attract more substitutes by offering a raise on daily pay.

Now a certified staff member will make $150 a day, an increase from $85 a day. A non-certified staff member now makes $125 a day, where previously they were paid $75 a day.

"What we’re finding out is that not all of the additional substitute teachers that we have with us at this time are choosing jobs. Our main challenge in this COVID virus is if a school experiences quarantined staff or actually isolated staff from testing positive, we need substitute teachers. So, we’re seeing some schools experience shortages because the substitutes are not choosing the jobs," Upham said.

The district will be able to offer the heightened substitute pay until next fall. Upham said a portion of the money must be spent by September 2021. To become a substitute teacher, visit the district's website by clicking here.

Last week, one entire elementary-aged classroom was placed into quarantine. Upham said an additional classroom of the same age range was quarantined this week.

Billings is not alone in closing classrooms to slow the spread of COVID-19 among students.

Last week, Canyon Creek School District 4 near Billings switched to remote learning until Nov. 29. Schools in Stevensville moved to all-remote learning on Nov. 6 and will remain remote until Nov. 18 after five active cases were identified in the schools. Administrators in the Great Falls Public Schools will go all remote for the period between Nov. 16 - 30.

"When you look across the state or even across the country, the number one issue that probably puts schools from live instruction into a remote instruction or closed is not having the appropriate staff. We've been short-staffed in schools. We've been able to weather the storm, so to speak. In some cases, we've had students that have had to sit in our foyer areas and stuff like that because we haven't had enough teachers. It makes it challenging," Upham said.

Billings administrators want to keep the 14,000 in-person students learning in the classroom for as long as possible. Upham said there's no plan now to make a district-wide switch to all-remote learning like other schools have done. Upham said he's taking direction from county public health officials on whether to go all-remote.

"We are paying close attention to the virus and we also speak weekly, if not daily, to our public health officials as to what is happening in the community. We take guidance from that perspective too. At any time, if the medical community said we can no longer manage or handle cases that we’re seeing and the schools would be a part of that, then we would consider placing the district into remote, but not at this time," Upham said.

With the holiday season fast approaching, Upham said there will be no mandatory quarantine period for students who traveled out of the state for the holidays. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock lifted the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers on June 1. Upham said he's taking queues from the governor on travel-related quarantine.

"We would just ask that people be very cognizant of their surroundings. We know what super-spreader events are. They are family gatherings, funerals, weddings, any type of large gathering. We have to be very cognizant, but there are no mandatory quarantine components for travelers at this time," Upham said.