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As COVID-19 worsens teacher shortage, substitutes struggle to fill openings

"There's just simply not enough adults to run our schools effectively. It's that simple," said Brittney Llewellyn.

TAMPA, Fla — The school year is just getting underway, but COVID-19 is making teacher and staff shortages worse in a district already struggling to operate at full capacity.

“There's just simply not enough adults to run our schools effectively. It's that simple…not enough teachers, not enough substitutes, not enough lunchroom ladies, not enough janitors,” said Brittney Llewellyn, a substitute teacher in Hillsborough County.

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The Hillsborough County Schools dashboard shows more than 9,000 people impacted by the virus. This increases the demand for substitute teachers, but even they can't fill in all the gaps.

Llewellyn said the first few weeks of school were overwhelming as COVID-19 cases grew.

At one point, there were more than 10,000 students, teachers and staff quarantined across the district...leaving hundreds of substitute openings. Here's how she described the second week.

“Sunday night it was at like 350 positions that were available, which is pretty high, then by the end of the week it jumped up to like 970...it got so overwhelming that I just stopped looking," she said.

This comes just months after the district cut nearly 1,000 jobs. Not all were teachers, but many schools still struggle.

"There's some schools where substitute teachers are the only teachers...so I'm more concerned about those children's education,” said Llewellyn.

Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said the shortage creates a bigger safety problem.

"What can the public see is…bigger class sizes right now because we want to make sure that kids have great teachers, so that's going to be more kids in a classroom in a time when we're trying to keep them socially distanced,” he said.

The district does not yet have a list of all permanent teacher vacancies for the year, but the teachers’ union said it is having ongoing conversations with the district to find solutions.

“It's a simple lack of not enough adults,” said Llewellyn.

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