With Many Teachers Out for COVID, California Schools Desperately Seek Substitutes

Mira Mesa High School students arrive for the first day of school in August. Photo by Chris Stone

Kelly Rhoden, the principal at Nevada Union High School, spent her morning Monday scrambling to find substitutes for her absent teachers. 

The school, about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, has 86 teachers. Thirteen were out on Monday.

“We have quite a few teachers out either because they’ve tested positive, they’re symptomatic, or they have their own children who are in quarantine,” she said. “At the end of the day, we just don’t have enough substitutes.”

Across California, the substitute teacher shortage is another burden in an already challenging school year. Administrators are taking desperate steps to make sure there’s an adult in the classroom when teachers are absent, resorting to using non-teaching staff who have their own critical responsibilities during the typical school day, especially during the first fully in-person school year of the pandemic.

Nevada Union High and the rest of the Nevada Joint Union High School District share a pool of substitute teachers with eight other districts in Nevada County. Last year, the pool was stretched so thin that Nevada Joint Union shut down schools due to a sub shortage. District officials are worried it’ll happen again.