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Schools need to get creative to fill vacancies

We knew it was coming, and yet, many Ohio school districts still are finding themselves scrambling as another surge in the COVID-19 pandemic leaves them short of staff … and substitutes.

Schools all over the Mahoning Valley and, really, all over Ohio are struggling to keep their doors open, not just because COVID-19 is affecting their student population, but because it’s also affecting their teachers, their cafeteria staff, their bus drivers and more.

This week, Austintown Local Schools, Youngstown City School District, Newton Falls and other Valley school districts have closed their buildings to in-person learning, instead reverting to online classes. It’s a situation causing hardships for many parents and certainly is one they hoped they never again would have to face.

Lack of bus drivers, substitute teachers and other workers in key positions continues to challenge school districts.

In recent months, nearly every local school district has publicized the ongoing struggles to find substitutes during these trying times.

The problem, of course, is not localized. Last week in the Lakota School District near Cincinnati, for example, 60 of 1,400 staff members were out on one day.

“We are hiring substitute teachers, cafeteria, intervention aides. We have kids that are in college now that we can bring in as subs that are helping us out while they’re on winter break,” Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Schools, told another media outlet.

Now, some schools even are adjusting requirements for those willing to serve as substitute teachers.

“A lot of people don’t know the rules have changed in Ohio, and you don’t need a teaching license. You have a temporary license right now to do that,” said Tracey Carson, spokesperson for Mason City Schools in Warren County. “In Mason, we’d love to encourage, if someone has just graduated from college, doesn’t have a job yet, come sub for us, make $125 a day and get to be with students.”

Getting creative — and finding those willing to do the job rather than those who are simply qualified on paper — is important for school districts. And, who knows? It may show districts that thinking outside the box can sometimes be better for students.

Meanwhile, those who believe they can help schools should look into the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher, driver or other staff member for their local districts. Many of them need all the help they can get.

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