Dear Legal Mailbag:

I keep hoping that things with COVID will get better, but recently they have just gotten worse.  I am a principal of an elementary school, and my staff and I are holding our own, even as COVID cases increase.  To be sure, our school has a positive case every so often, and we respond with contact tracing and quarantines.  But given our diligence in following the established mitigation procedures, we should be able to keep our schools open, to the benefit of the students we serve.

I say “should” because of my concern about staffing.  Pre-COVID, we had our challenges finding and retaining qualified substitute teachers, but our problems were manageable.  However, the pandemic has exacerbated the challenge, and despite our efforts to beat the bushes to find substitute teachers, I come to school every day wondering if we will be able to staff our school appropriately and keep students safe.  I have heard that desperate times call for desperate measures.  What does Legal Mailbag suggest?

Desperately Seeking Substitutes

Dear Seeking:

Legal Mailbag simply monitors and reports on legal issues that school districts confront.  The Governor is the person who can make things happen, and Legal Mailbag is happy to report that some help is on the way.

This Tuesday, December 1, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 9O, and this Executive Order is intended to ease the burden on school officials seeking to hire substitutes.  Under current law, a person must generally have a bachelor’s degree to serve as a substitute teacher, subject to specified exceptions.  However, to give school officials greater flexibility in staffing our schools during the pandemic, the Governor has given the Commissioner of Education the authority to waive that requirement and other requirements more generally.

In relevant part, Executive Order 9O provides:

  1. Flexibility in Hiring Short-term Substitute Teachers. Section 10-145 of the Connecticut General Statutes and any associated regulations, rules, and policies regarding the employment of substitute teachers who do not hold a bachelor’s degree are modified to authorize the Commissioner of Education to temporarily waive or modify any requirements, including but not limited to the approval process, contained therein and establish binding rules to implement this order. Such rules shall not be included in the definition set forth in Section 4-166 (16) of the Connecticut General Statutes.

As we can see, this Executive Order gives the Commissioner the authority to waive various requirements related to the employment of substitute teachers, including the requirement that a substitute teacher must generally have a bachelor’s degree.  We can hope that such waiver will help good people like you find qualified individuals to serve as substitute teachers.

Please don’t run out to the supermarket to interview potential candidates for substitute positions just yet!  The Governor’s Executive Order by itself doesn’t change anything.  Rather, it authorizes the Commissioner of Education to change the process and waive requirements, including that one must generally have a bachelor’s degree to serve as a substitute.  The Commissioner has been remarkably responsive to district needs during the pandemic, and he has provided relief to school officials whenever he has been given the authority to do so.  Accordingly, we do expect the Commissioner to take this invitation and waive requirements to expand the pool of people who will be able to serve as substitutes.  But stay tuned for the details!