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Kansas loosens substitute teacher requirements, citing ‘desperate times’

 Kansas education officials say several districts are considering closing schools because they don’t have enough staff or substitute teachers to operate.
Suzanne Perez
/
KMUW
Kansas education officials say several districts are considering closing schools because they don’t have enough staff or substitute teachers to operate.

A new temporary substitute license does away with a previous requirement that subs have at least 60 hours of college coursework.

WICHITA, Kansas — For the rest of this school year, anyone 18 and older who has a high school diploma and passes a background check can work as a substitute teacher in Kansas.

The state Board of Education voted reluctantly but unanimously Wednesday to temporarily lower the minimum requirements to be a sub, citing crisis-level staffing shortages.

“Everyone is concerned about lowering qualifications at a time we’re expecting a higher outcome,” said Education Commissioner Randy Watson. “But they’re also concerned that they’re not going to be able to keep the doors open unless they have some alternative.”

Watson told board members that at least four Kansas districts are considering closing schools because they don’t have enough staff or substitute teachers to operate.

Irving Elementary School in Winfield shifted to remote learning last week because of a rise in COVID-19 cases. El Dorado announced Wednesday that all schools will be closed Thursday and Friday because of staffing shortages and high student absentee rates.

Wichita, the state’s largest district, issued a memo late Tuesday urging families to have a child-care plan in place “in the event that data indicators cause us to send students … home for several days.”

The new temporary substitute license does away with a previous requirement that subs have at least 60 hours of college coursework.

Some superintendents and local school board members had urged the state to loosen the requirements, saying it would allow them to hire people to supervise classes who might not have college credit hours.

“We realize … that this is a temporary situation as a result of the pandemic, and that what we are bringing you today is not a permanent solution,” said Mischel Miller, the director of teacher licensure and accreditation for the Kansas Department of Education.

Districts can start issuing the temporary licenses right away. They’re effective through June 1, when the state board plans to reevaluate the plan.

“It is a last-resort license,” Miller said. “It is not meant to fill long-term positions.”

Board member Jim McNiece, a former high school principal, voiced concern about the minimum age requirement.

“Why 18? We’ve got kids in school that are 21,” McNiece said. “It concerns me that 18 is the base, if we’re allowing that to happen.”

Miller said “superintendents were adamant about the fact that they would … maintain a high standard (and) place those candidates appropriately based on what they know about them.”

She said districts could opt to set their age requirement higher. She added that the new license would allow districts to use para-educators, who may have extensive classroom experience but no college coursework, as substitute teachers.

McNiece ended up voting for the change despite his concerns.

“It’s a response to a terrible, unfortunate situation,” he said. “We need to take desperate measures in desperate times.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.