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NC educators react to policy allowing state employees to volunteer as substitute staff in schools

Gov. Cooper’s new directive will allow state employees to use paid leave to serve as substitute staff
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 7:08 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Schools across North Carolina are in desperate need of extra staff as thousands of employees are absent due to COVID-19 and other reasons.

In an effort to alleviate some of the stress for school staff, a North Carolina policy will allow state employees to use volunteer days with supervisor approval to work in North Carolina public schools as substitute teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff.

Related: State employees allowed to use paid time to substitute teach due to staff shortages in N.C. schools

Gov. Cooper’s new directive will allow state employees to use paid leave to serve as substitute staff in schools while also keeping any compensation they earn as substitutes.

Educators across the WBTV viewing area shared their perspectives, many of whom are taking on extra classes as their schools face staff shortages.

CMS high school teacher Charlotte Smith recently returned to the classroom after finishing her isolation period for COVID-19.

She says upon her return many of her students didn’t finish the work the substitute teacher gave them, which makes her wonder how state employees will help teach students.

“It makes a lot of sense because state employees are probably already vetted through the system, where they would be people who are really easy to put into school because they already have a background check and stuff,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a sustainable solution.”

Smith and many other teachers are already covering extra classes for their colleagues, many of which are outside of the subject they teach.

“It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely,” said Gov. Cooper. “This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools.”

“Is your priority just to keep schools open to be open or is learning loss and all that stuff they talked about your priority,” Smith said in response to lawmakers limiting remote learning,” Smith said.

Rowan- Salisbury Schools elementary school instructional coach Artia Scott says her district is also dealing with staff absences and teachers having to cover extra classes.

She says while volunteers can help take a load off their shoulders, she worries their lack of training won’t help maintain student learning.

“I’m very appreciative for these people coming in to serve in these spots, but taking that extra step to follow through and complete the lesson and do all of the things so learning can still happen because if not, it just becomes a babysitting service,” Scott said.

Dr. Robert Taylor works with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as the Deputy State Superintendent for Student and School Advancement.

He says getting volunteers in schools will be beneficial to maintaining in-person learning and allowing schools to spread out their resources.

“This gives us the same opportunity for the redeployment of resources,” Taylor said. “We now have personnel in place, enough people in place to bring our children to school then that school had all kinds of opportunities in terms of how they provide instruction for those children.”

“At least some sort of educational background would be kind of preferred but you know beggars can’t be choosers. I’m happy we have a body but we have to come to continue with learning,” Scott said.

When it comes to substitute teacher qualifications in NC, the NCDPI says there is no State Board of Education provisions governing requirements to hold the position.

Age and education requirements vary by district.

View the school district substitute information.

The policy will also allow state employees to use their leave time for substitute teacher and teacher assistant training.

The State Human Resource Commission’s Community Service Leave Policy states that full-time state employees are eligible for 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year.

“CMS appreciates all efforts to help address the shortage of substitutes we have faced since the start of the school year,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston. “Our return from winter break in the midst of the Omicron surge has amplified staffing challenges, so the district welcomes any policy that can help get more substitutes into our classrooms during this time of acute need.”

“They are not certified teachers and cannot provide quality instruction. So I’m not sure what the point would be,” said one CMS teacher who wanted to remain anonymous.”

Other educators also told WBTV they were concerned with how state employees would have enough time to complete the required classroom and the behind-the-wheel training to be a school bus driver.

According to the NC Office of State Human Resources, the Community Service Leave policy covers all state agency and university employees, with supervisor approval. Per the December 2021 employee statistics, that includes nearly 78,000 workers.

The policy will be effective starting on Jan. 12, 2022, and will end on Feb. 15, 2022.

A spokesperson with the NC Office of State Human Resources says they will extend the deadline if extreme shortages continue.

“If significant need continues, the time frame may be extended, or more volunteer hours allocated,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

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