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Nevada makes final decision regarding emergency substitute teachers

Updated March 1, 2022 - 7:19 am

The state’s Legislative Commission gave final approval Monday to allow the Clark County School District the option of hiring emergency substitute teachers who have only a high school diploma.

After a short discussion and questions, the commission voted unanimously on the change.

The regulation amends Nevada Administrative Code to allow emergency substitute teachers in school districts with 9,000 or more students — or public charter schools within their geographic boundaries — during a state of emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic-spurred move comes as the state’s largest school districts are struggling with staffing shortages this school year.

With a lack of available substitutes, some teachers in the Clark County School District have been selling their prep periods in order to cover vacancies and classes are being combined some days.

The school district has about 1,270 teacher vacancies, as of Friday — a number that has grown since the school year began — and hundreds of support staff openings.

The district, which has more than 300,000 students, said in a Monday statement it supports the Legislative Commission’s decision.

“With the nationwide teacher shortage, school districts across the state and country must utilize every option to pair teachers with students to raise academic performance and satisfy the social-emotional wellbeing of our students,” the district said.

Emily Ellison, chief human resources officer for the Washoe County School District – which has more than 62,000 students in the Reno area – said in a Monday statement the school district is “tremendously grateful” for the support in making emergency substitute licensing available to the state’s two largest school districts during this time of emergency.

“Our guest teachers are critical to the continuity of learning when the regular teacher is not available,” Ellison said. “We are thankful to be able to expand the pool of candidates from which we can recruit future educators.”

The Legislative Commission’s vote Monday was the final step in the approval process for the emergency substitute teacher change. The Nevada State Board of Education adopted the regulation Friday.

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, said during Monday’s meeting he has received emails from people who are concerned about lowering the standard for substitute teacher hiring.

But, he said, “it is not easy in this world right now to staff schools, especially during the pandemic” when so many employees are out sick.

Hammond also said the regulation changes only apply when there’s a state of emergency in effect — not under normal circumstances.

If the state of emergency is lifted, those who are already emergency substitute teachers can remain in that role through the remainder of the school year, said Jeff Briske, director of licensure for the Nevada Department of Education.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, asked whether it’s optional — not a mandate — for school districts to hire emergency substitutes. Briske said that’s correct.

The state previously had an emergency substitute regulation that took effect in November 2020 and it was extended, but expired in November 2021.

Schools with 9,000 or more students can now hire emergency substitutes during “a state of emergency” proclaimed by the governor or under a resolution by the state legislature. It allows them to hire candidates who have only a high school diploma “or its equivalent,” according to the regulation changes.

Currently, substitute teachers must have at least 60 college credits, or an associate degree or higher.

The changes also require at least one hour of training for an emergency substitute teacher on topics such as classroom and behavior management before starting on the job.

Smaller Nevada school districts with fewer than 9,000 students — or public charter schools in their boundaries — are already allowed to hire emergency substitutes, but with limitations on how long they’re allowed to be in one classroom.

During a public comment period at Monday’s meeting, Lindsay Anderson with the Washoe County School District asked the Legislative Commission to support the regulation changes.

The school district has been committed to keeping students on campus as much as possible, she said, and appreciated the emergency regulation early in the pandemic.

The regulation expired during the omicron variant surge and the district struggled to keep schools fully staffed, Anderson said, and desperately needed a wider pool of substitute teachers.

While the pool of community members who can become substitutes will increase, there’s still an internal school district hiring process to ensure safety and screening for competencies, Anderson said.

Leonardo Benavides with the Clark County School District said the district supports the emergency regulation, saying it gives school principals additional options for putting substitutes in classrooms.

With staffing shortages affecting school districts across the country, it’s necessary to look at available options, he said.

In January during the COVID-19 omicron variant surge, the district’s substitute fill rate — how many daily vacancies due to teacher absences were covered by a substitute — ranged from approximately 19.3 percent to 34 percent, according to district data.

As for hiring, the school district received 2,652 substitute teacher applications from July 1, 2021 to Jan. 31 this year, according to data the Review-Journal obtained through a public records request.

Of those, 686 were hired, 1,363 were rejected, 458 applications were pending and 145 people withdrew their applications, according to the district.

All of the applicants who were rejected didn’t meet minimum qualifications for the position, the district said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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