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Ranks of substitute teachers in Lee, Whiteside, Ogle, already thin, threatened further by COVID-19; ROE puts out the call

Bob Sondgeroth
Bob Sondgeroth

The area's pool of substitute teachers already was getting pretty shallow.

Now comes COVID-19, which could result in more teachers using sick days and more subs needed in the classrooms.

"We had trouble last year, before this even started," said Bob Sondgeroth, superintendent of the Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Office of Education.

"It's a statewide issue. There is a shortage of substitute teachers."

What was a shortage to begin with will be exacerbated by the likelihood of teachers falling ill. Districts are doing symptom screenings and temperature checks at the door at the start of a school day; staff members who test positive or show symptoms will find themselves in quarantine for up to 2 weeks or more, which means someone else will have to step into the classroom.

Sondgeroth is asking anyone interested in being a sub who has a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to sign up through the regional office. Those with associate degrees from an accredited institution also can sign for short-term sub work, which means working in one classroom for 5 days.

The ROE pool was stretched even thinner by districts that have hired full-time subs just to be in the building, on call, Sondgeroth said.

"I understand. I think that's a really good idea for them, because you never know when a teacher has to leave," he said. "To have a sub in the building is fantastic."

The Chadwick-Milledgeville School District is hoping to head off some potential problems. Monday, its board voted to raise sub pay to $110 per day, in an effort to attract them at a time when they might be hard to find.

Other districts are planning ahead, too.

"I think we've called about every sub on the list to try to add to that pool as best we can," Rock Falls High School Superintendent Ron McCord said. "We have a couple ... who sub all the time who will not be in due to this situation and their own health risks. It's going to be a challenge from day one."

Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett built a lot of flexibility into this district's reopening plan with the knowledge that things could change, especially if teachers and staff fall ill.

"If we get enough teachers that are ill that we can't replace them in the in-school learning environment, we may be forced to go remotely," Everett said. "Those are all things we're going to have to be flexible and fluid with."

From district to district, there are different COVID-19 procedures in place, and Sondgeroth is instructing subs to ask each district what those procedures are.

"If I'm a substitute, that's the first thing I ask when I walk in to a building: Where are the wipes, what should I be doing, how do I wipe things down, what are your rules for the masks?" he said.

"Our health departments have been amazing. Lee, Ogle and Whiteside County health departments have worked with our administrators. They've been on many Zoom meetings with our administrators."

There is another Zoom meeting next week to go over Illinois Department of Public Health school guidelines issued a week ago that left a lot of the details up to local health departments. Sondgeroth and school district and health department administrators will go over their plans.

The ROE office is at 1001 St. Mary's Street in Sterling. Call 815-625-1495 for more information on signing up for sub work.