UTAH COUNTY -- The Alpine School District said they are hundreds of substitute teachers short for this next school year, with the first day of class just a few weeks away.
The company that hires the teachers explains there have been a few challenges recruiting this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday evening, Pleasant Grove Junior High student Mason Anderson geared up for football practice. He's ready to tackle the fall season, as well as head back to class.
Mason said he's been missing school.
"Seeing friends, and being able to be social with your social life is really important to me," he said. "So I'm excited to get back to it."
He'll get back to it -- with COVID-19 precautions, of course. His mom Heather is one to make sure of it.
"I made masks for our family. I asked him the other day, I said, 'What are all the different kinds of masks you're going to want?' And he's like, 'Mom!'" Heather Anderson said, recounting how her teen son acted a little annoyed at her gung-ho mask-making measures. "I said, 'Do you need one that matches every outfit?'"
She made herself some masks too, having signed up as a substitute teacher.
"I just didn't give it a second thought. I'm like -- if they're going back, I'll go back with them," Heather said.
She's one of 700 who, so far, have raised their hands to sub this coming school year. But the Alpine School District and ESS, the company that hires substitute teachers, said the school district needs at least twice that-- around 1500.
ESS described how recruiting during a pandemic hasn't been easy.
"Some of the challenges have just been COVID related, trying to get people in person," ESS Regional District Manager Joseph Fitzgerald said. "So we've actually been using a lot of digital tools."
Plus, he explained, ESS had to start hiring this year from scratch because this is the first year the Alpine School District is contracting with ESS for substitute teaching services.
Anyone who served as a substitute teacher in the past will need to fill out a fresh application to ESS.
They aren't quite sure what the demand will look like yet, Fitzgerald said. It's possible more teachers could be calling out sick, thus increasing the need for substitute teachers.
"This is not a usual school year. We can't necessarily... it's not going to be like any other school year we've seen before," he said. "And so we are gearing up to be able to be ready, so if there is a higher demand-- that we can service that."
When asked if anyone was concerned about substitute teaching during COVID-19 or opting not to teach during the pandemic, they described how they've been getting some questions surrounding that.
"They want to keep the kids safe, they want to keep themselves and their families safe, but they want to take care of the students," said Brandon Ethington, ESS Resident District Manager over the Alpine School District. "They want to be here for the students and the teachers, to help continue education, continue support for the schools."
He and Fitzgerald explained that they tell applicants that ESS is following state guidelines, as well as decisions from the Alpine School District.
"They don't want COVID to be a mar on them," Ethington said, of the people applying to teach. "So they're being cautious, but they're still eager to sign up."
ESS will host open house hiring events next week, on July 28, 29 and 30 at Mountain View High School, Mountain Ridge Middle School and Vista Heights Middle School from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Anyone interested can also apply here.
They're hoping another 800 people will sign up to be substitute teachers or support staff in the next four weeks, but Fitzgerald said if they don't reach 1,500 applicants, they'll continue recruiting after the school year begins.
He said one only needs to be 18 years old with a high school diploma and pass a background check to become a substitute teacher. ESS provides training to the people they hire.
Heather will tell you, she loves substitute teaching and -- like her son -- she's ready to get back to school, while following all the COVID-19 precautions.
"I feel comfortable going into that situation and I can keep myself healthy, and still do the other things that I need to do," Heather said, adding: "and protect [the students]."