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LEHI — As thousands of teachers and students returned to class Tuesday, one company that partners with several Utah school districts continued its search for more substitute teachers to prepare for a potential increase in absences this school year.
“They said potentially I could substitute every day. So they’re expecting quite a high need,” said Aysa Freeman, one of the hundreds of substitute teachers recently hired by Educational Solutions Services to work in the Alpine School District.
“I actually lost my previous job to COVID,” said Freeman, who worked as a surgical assistant until she was laid off when the pandemic prompted limited elective surgeries.
“Losing my surgical position did make me reevaluate,” she said. “And I think the schools are a great opportunity because there will most likely be teachers in need of substitutes this year.”
That potential need is what prompted her new employer ESS to call for hundreds of more people to apply to be substitute teachers this year.
“There is still an urgent need,” said Joseph Fitzgerald, regional district manager at ESS, which works with Alpine, Ogden, Tooele and Washington school districts.
“This year our unemployment is helping us a little bit,” he said. “But now we have concerns of whether substitutes want to be in the classroom or not because they might be concerned with COVID-19.”
Fitzgerald said they’ve had a handful of substitutes take a leave of absence because of concerns over the virus. Typically, they like to have three or four substitutes for every teacher absence.
“Right now, we’re not quite sure what our needs are going to be,” Fitzgerald said. “So we are preparing ourselves to have more individuals available to work.”
“Our goal is that our students don’t ever have an empty classroom,” said Brandon Ethington, ESS district manager for the Alpine School District.
Our goal is that our students don’t ever have an empty classroom.
–Brandon Ethington, ESS district manager, Alpine School District
Despite concerns from some, Ethington said, “from the brand-new subs to established retired teachers and everything in between, we’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of subs wanting to come out and help out this year.”
But they’re still looking for more to reach 1,800 to 2,000 substitutes for just the Alpine School District, which is the largest district in Utah.
“There’s definitely always a concern going out in public and especially going into schools during a pandemic,” Freeman said.
Freeman said she has severe asthma, which puts her at higher risk. But with her background in the hospital and with contamination, she felt prepared to head back into the classroom — this time as a teacher.
“I think it will be adjusting to a new normal for everybody, including the kids. So, we’ll just all get through it,” she said.