SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has issued an executive order to allow state employees to act as substitute teachers, alleviating staffing shortages in schools across the state.
The order allows state workers to take approved leave time from their state jobs to fill staffing gaps in schools. This is brought on by the omicron variant of COVID-19, which has left teachers and staff out.
"We know that kids learn best in the classroom, so we want to do what we can to help schools stay open. Our teachers and our children deserve our support during this difficult phase of the pandemic," Gov. Cox said in a statement. "We hope many of the state’s 22,000 employees will take advantage of this opportunity to help our schools."
A concerned parent of a Granite School District student, who didn't want to be identified, told FOX 13 News they weren't necessarily in favor of the governor's decision.
"I don’t think it is right to bring anyone off the streets to teach my child — or any child, for that matter," the parent said.
With a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant, school districts have struggled with teacher absences over the past month. That struggle has been compounded by the inability to fill the void with substitute teachers.
"We were at over 2,000 requests for the first two weeks for subs," Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said. "Our fail-to-fill rate — that means when we don't have enough substitutes to fill the job — was up around 50 percent."
Utah teachers unions said they supported the move.
"The UEA appreciates the sentiment behind Governor Cox’s announcement today allowing state employees to serve as substitute teachers during this crisis. The shortage of qualified substitute teachers is a symptom of much larger issues," the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said in a statement. "We continue to call on the Governor, the legislature and elected school boards to work together to immediately address the serious long-term concerns with substitute shortages, attracting and retaining qualified educators and the impacts of the pandemic on schools."
The American Federation of Teachers says the move will take some of the weight off teachers, some of whom have had to take on an extra load.
"They have had to double up their classes, they have had to use their prep periods, things like that," said Brad Asay, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Utah. "They’re taxed — the stress level is really high and they are exhausted."
Hoping for some relief, the order grants state employees up to 30 hours of paid leave in order to work as a substitute teacher — or other needed positions — in a public or private school between now and the end of June.
"We are in an emergency situation with COVID. This has been done in other states. This will allow public school teachers to take care of their health and the health of their families," Asay also said in a message to FOX 13 News.
The decision was well-received by Senate members on both sides of the aisle.
"I think generally it is a good idea," Senate President J. Stuart Adams (R-Layton) said. "I think it probably has to be managed by those managers and those employers in their different assignments."
Other Senate members agree that it is a solution — for right now.
"We need to make sure our schools are staffed correctly, and that is an issue we discussed in the previous bill we passed. We just need to get a better long-term solution," said Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City).
State employees who choose to participate must go through a district or school hiring process which includes passing a background check.
Read the executive order here: