Large Oregon districts skipped ‘emergency’ teachers even as staff shortages grew

State data shows that districts around the state kept classrooms going with newly-licensed temporary teachers

By: - January 19, 2022 6:00 am

Oregon’s response to education challenges during the pandemic set stage for future innovations. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Last October, the state came to the rescue of school districts by opening the way to get people into classrooms who weren’t necessarily teachers by degree or training.

But data from the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission show that the state’s largest districts didn’t grab the lifeline even as they closed down in recent days with the latest surge in coronavirus.

Other districts did.

Nearly 650 licenses for temporary full-time and substitute teachers have been issued statewide since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

The emergency teaching license has been around for several years, and the state approved an emergency substitute teacher license in October that gave school officials yet another way to hire temporary staff to fill shortages.

No bachelor’s degree or prior classroom training is needed for the special license for full-time or substitute teachers.

According to the state data, medium and small school districts have taken advantage of the special licenses this year. Big ones haven’t.

During the week of Jan. 10, more than a dozen schools in Portland, Tigard-Tualatin, Gresham-Barlow and Centennial School Districts canceled classes and moved to learning online due to employees being out from Covid-related illness or exposure.

But each of these districts had been issued just a few of the emergency licenses that allow the hiring of temporary, full-time staff.

When it comes to the emergency substitute teaching licenses, none have been issued to Portland, Tigard-Tualatin or Centennial.

In contrast, the Forest Grove School District, with 12% of the student population of Portland schools, was issued 38 licenses for emergency substitute teachers. The Grants Pass School District, with just 10% of Portland Public’s student population, was issued 31 licenses for emergency substitute teachers.

Portland and Tigard-Tualatin, which, like all districts, need to sponsor individuals operating under the emergency licenses, said they either didn’t have enough applicants or had sought to fill vacancies with temporary substitutes under a “restricted license.” 

A restricted license requires a bachelor’s degree, not necessarily in teaching.

In all cases, for both emergency and restricted licenses, districts apply for them on behalf of candidates they want to hire. Districts submit paperwork to the Teacher Standards Commission, which reviews the need, the person’s qualifications and does a background check before deciding whether to issue the license.

Sharon Reese, the chief human resources officer at Portland Public Schools, said in an email that several hundred people were interested in applying for emergency substitute teaching licenses, but she was advised by employees at the Teacher Standards Commission to have applicants with bachelor’s degrees apply instead for a restricted license. 

Reese said that as of this week, she had submitted paperwork for just eight full-time emergency substitute teaching licenses and 64 of the restricted substitute teaching licenses. The district has received just two licenses for full-time emergency teachers for the 2021-22 school year so far and none for emergency substitutes.

In Tigard-Tualatin, Staci Rose, communications director, wrote that they had not applied for more temporary emergency licenses due to a limited pool of applicants.

The emergency substitute teaching license is valid for just six months, and not beyond June 30, 2022. Emergency substitutes can teach only in the district that sponsors them, but they can teach across subjects and can be put in any school in the district that needs them on a given day. 

The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission has issued nearly 400 of these emergency substitute teaching licenses since October. These are most frequently issued for people who do not have bachelor’s degrees.

The emergency teaching licenses, for full-time teachers, have been around since 2014, and allow people without a bachelor’s to teach for a year, at a single school in a single subject area. Last year, the state issued 140. By January of this year, the Teacher Standards Commission had issued more than 250 emergency teaching licenses.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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