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Duval County Public Schools has hundreds of teacher vacancies as the school year begins.
As of Friday, Aug. 6, the district reported more than 300 teacher openings.
“If you have a district this size on top of a second round — or really third round of COVID — I’m not surprised at the number of vacancies,” Terrie Brady, the president of Duval Teachers United, said.
Those spots are currently being filled by the district’s more than 1,800 substitutes, which are hired by a third-party company. Last year the district reported it had about 2,000 substitutes on the roster.
“We can’t just have anyone in our classroom nor do we want just anyone in our classrooms,” Shannon Russell-Hinds, a teacher at Sandalwood High School, said. “Teachers are having to make some really tough choices.”
Russell-Hinds said she’s concerned if cases increase, substitutes won’t want to pick up classrooms when teachers call out sick or for quarantining.
“A lot of them might say no because they have preexisting conditions and have to take care of themselves,” Brady added.
On the first day of school Tuesday, 96 teachers called out sick. On the first day of school in 2020, 80 teachers called out sick.
Full-time staff members are covering 96% of the classrooms within the district. A representative said the rest are filled by substitutes.
During the 2020-21 school year, CARES Act funding helped provide up to 80 hours in COVID leave for teachers if they could provide a positive test or proof of exposure through contact tracing with the Department of Health.
The leave expired at the end of the school year. Now the union is fighting to bring it back.
“It’s not the fault of the employees,” Brady said. “They’re going to work in a setting that they don’t know is perfect.”
According to Brady, the district recently agreed to add four leave days. One to get a test, and the other to wait for results. This process can happen twice a year.
But Brady said they will keep fighting to bring back the full 80 hours.
“If people actually get sick and can’t come back for a certain period of time — that’s scary,” Russell-Hinds said. “Then there’s that fear of ‘what do I do? This comes out of my sick days’.”
In a statement to Action News Jax, the district said, “We work actively year-round to recruit great teachers, and right now is no different.”
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