Pinellas County Public Schools will start pulling district staff members from their assigned offices to serve as substitute teachers starting next Wednesday amid educator absences due to COVID-19.
In an email obtained by Florida Politics, district staff members were notified of the change and asked to complete a survey indicating their school level preference (elementary or secondary) by Wednesday at noon.
“In an effort to support our sites during this challenging time, we will begin utilizing all certified district staff as of Wednesday, Sept. 8, to assist in filling teacher absences,” the email reads. “Unfilled positions at all of our sites will be analyzed daily, and coverage will be provided in order of need.”
According to the email, staff will be sent a schedule later this week that will assign coverage days.
Although the original email noted that “all members of district administrative staff,” made up of a pool of about 300 individuals with teaching certificates, would be assigned one day per the coming four months, the district spokesperson later notified Florida Politics that the policy was updated to be optional among staff members.
Staff members will receive information on school placement, grade level, and subject by 6 p.m. the night before their scheduled coverage date, according to the email. Online substitute teacher training will be offered to the staff members on Sept. 9.
According to the district spokesperson, the move was made to assist in filling unfilled classroom absences “left open for a variety of reasons.” The staff being pulled are all from the district’s administration building and include associate superintendents, directors, instructional staff developers and curriculum specialists.
The spokesperson confirmed that the district did this during the 2020-21 school year to help fill vacancies in the classroom.
Typically, the district uses a pool of substitute teachers, the spokesperson said.
“They are members of our community, and they too are impacted by what’s happening in our community,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Florida Politics. “Some choose not to work at this time while others do accept the opportunity to help schools and fill classroom absence.”
The county school district has continued to see an influx of COVID-19 cases, resulting in more required quarantines.
Since the start of the school year on Aug. 11, the district has reported 2,516 cases of COVID-19, including 2,015 students and 501 employees. Cases have also been on the rise, with a record 363 cases confirmed Tuesday, including 319 students.
The school with the highest number of COVID-19 cases confirmed is Hollins High School, which has reported 58 student cases and 10 employee cases so far.
About 5,900 students and staff members have been impacted by the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Those impacted are required to isolate at home after contact with a student or staff member who tested positive for the virus. The district’s dashboard with COVID-19 data does not break down quarantines among students and staff.
The district provides a dashboard updated daily on the number of COVID-19 cases reported by students and staff members. To note, the district’s report does not provide the number of individuals hospitalized or who have died as a result of COVID-19.
The latest surge follows a vote by the Pinellas County School Board last week against holding an emergency meeting to discuss a districtwide mask mandate.
The board considered meeting to discuss and possibly vote on a 90-day mask mandate with a medically approved opt-out, a move suggested by School Board member Caprice Edmond. The decision not to hold the meeting came despite pleas from several local pediatricians to consider the option, citing overwhelmed pediatric units.