Omicron surge forces San Antonio area schools to get creative, but they need your help

Districts need more substitute teachers to fill teacher and staff absences due to COVID-19

SAN ANTONIO – Teachers are trying to make up for a lag in learning over the past two years because of COVID-19 shutdowns and quarantines.

But they’ll have to focus on playing catch-up later. Right now, they’re just trying to keep the learning going.

A trademark of the latest COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant has been staff shortages. The rapid spread of that version of the virus has meant that more teachers and school staff have been absent and all at once.

In Northeast ISD, the district has seen an average of 800 staff absences daily since the start of the year. About 600 of those are teacher absences.

That’s double the average absentee rate in the district before the pandemic.

Its why Hallie Ramirez, a mother of four, decided it was time to step in to substitute teach.

“In the first-grade class they were having an inconsistent substitute. And I asked how I could help,” Ramirez said.

As a former teacher, that inconsistency was troublesome to Ramirez.

She’s considered a long-term substitute at East Terrell Hills Elementary.

“Kids need consistency, and they need somebody that’s going to give them the same thing every day,” she said. “Whether it’s the rules in how to do things, they need that consistency every day.”

She describes this week as ‘crazy,’ with as many students absent in her class as she’s seen since she started subbing after the holiday break.

But just as crazy is the number of teachers who are out, too.

Ramirez says she sees new faces around the school all the time and they’re all covering for each other.

“There was a girl subbing last week in first grade, and she also had to do crossing guard, so she couldn’t take her kids at the end of the day to where they needed to be because she had to be out on the street. And so we covered for her while she did her other job.”

When NEISD can’t fill sub positions, they turn to principals or other staff, including those working in the district’s central office.

But you don’t need prior teaching experience to help out. In fact, some districts have changed their substitute teacher requirements and increased pay in order to fill the vacancies.

Jessica Garcia, a senior at Texas State University, began subbing for the very first time this week in Northside ISD.

She is studying to be a teacher and is already familiar with the needs of the district.

Her sister is an NISD teacher, her mother works in administration and her father, a military veteran without a teaching background, is subbing as well.

“The good thing about substitute teaching though is that no matter what career you come from or what discipline you come from, you can always substitute teach to give back to the community,” Garcia said.

If you feel you just won’t make the grade subbing, there are plenty of other ways to help fill the gap right now. Ramirez says an extra set of hands can go a long way.

“I think it’s a community issue because these are these kids are our future,” Ramirez said. “Whether it’s subbing or coming and sitting with a class or helping at lunch, there’s places you can help.”

The best way to find out what’s needed is to contact your local school or district.

About the Author:

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.