The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission announced this week that it is temporarily dropping the bachelor’s degree requirement to become licensed as a substitute teacher because of an “extraordinary shortage” of substitute teachers all over the state.

CNN reported that the new rule, which will expire on March 31, allows substitute teacher applicants who don’t have a bachelor’s degree to be sponsored by a school district, providing them with enhanced support and administrative supervision. These individuals can only work in the district that sponsors them and would only be valid for the remainder of the school year, or six months, whichever is later.

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“This rule maintains the responsibility of districts to ensure that the adults caring for the students in the classroom have the skills and dispositions necessary to be a temporary substitute teacher who can keep students safe and learning,” said Dr. Anthony Rosilez, the Commission’s executive director, and Erika Bare, the commission chair.

While there were 8,290 licensed substitute teachers across Oregon in 2019, that number plummeted down to 4,738 licensed substitutes by last month. The order states that without more teachers, classes will be “combined to unacceptable levels or not offered at all, inflicting irreparable harm on schoolchildren.”

“While the data we have at this point is primarily anecdotal, the COVID pandemic has been a primary factor in the reduced supply,” Rosilez and Bare said.

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Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, which also represents substitute educators, explained that Oregon is in the midst of a “staffing crisis” that was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic for several reasons. Some longtime substitute teachers have moved to different fields since there was little work for them with virtual learning during the pandemic.

“At the same time, there was a huge need to hire teachers. Many teachers resigned or left the profession last year, so there were a lot of openings, and many of our substitute educators have been hired into full-time jobs, and so the pool that we have left of substitute educators is significantly smaller than it typically is,” Thiel added.

Rosilez and Bare described the new rule as a “short-term solution” that will allow districts to keep functioning “in the face of unprecedented staffing shortages while we tackle the continuing problem of teacher shortage across the state and country. The Commission will more fully review this temporary rule and feedback from school districts at its November meeting.”

However, Thiel said that much larger system changes would be needed to fix this issue.

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“It’s not just substitutes that we don’t have enough of. It’s classroom teachers. It’s administrators and custodians and bus drivers and education assistants and nutrition workers and paraprofessionals,” Thiel said. “Every job type we have in our schools, we’re short.”