OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a plan to address school staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 surge Tuesday by allowing state employees to substitute teach in school districts across Oklahoma.
The plan is called the Guest Educator Program. It’s set to have thousands of state employees volunteering to substitute teach in districts across the state, in an effort to keep schools doors open for in person learning despite rising cases in the state.
“We’ve made it clear that that schools need to be open for in-person learning,” Stitt said.
The surge has forced numerous districts in the state to go to virtual learning as teachers and staff continue to test positive.
“In-person learning is so, so important for the future of that specific child, but also for the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
According to Stitt, the program authorizes state agencies to mobilize Oklahoma’s 32,000 state employees to substitute teach in districts across the state even if they’ve never taught before. Under the plan employees would still be paid by the state and not the districts. The program encourages local businesses to work with local districts as well. They must also pass a background check and go through any school onboarding processes.
“We’re going to help keep 100 percent of our schools open across the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
However, not everyone is on board. El Reno Public Schools Supt. Craig McVay tweeted out just after the announcement, criticizing the move.
State Sen. Carrie Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, also released a statement that can be read in full below:
“The safety of our students and educators should be the top priority by local decision makers. Today, the governor issued an executive order purporting to keep schools open, by urging public employees to substitute as classroom teachers two days a week. This is a short-sighted solution to the challenges our schools have been facing for 22 months during a global pandemic.
Without mitigation efforts to protect the health and safety of students, many who are immunocompromised, I fear for the long-term effects of this heavy-handed approach. We do not have an interchangeable workforce.
The executive order shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. It diminishes teachers’ contributions and expertise in the field of education, undermines the safety of our classrooms and ignores the complexity involved in educating a child.
The shortage of highly qualified educators has been at a critical level for years and this executive order is a charade. In 2012, the state of Oklahoma had 32 emergency certified teachers. In contrast, this school year, we have more than 3,600 emergency certified teachers in the state.
I stand with the hundreds of thousands of public-school parents who value, support and appreciate their local school district and educators. These are extraordinarily challenging times for educators, parents, and students, but together we will get through this.”STATE SENATOR CARRIE HICKS
State Superintendent and gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister also spoke out after the announcement.
“Unfortunately, what the governor has done is to bring a cup of water to a raging fire,” she said.
Hofmeister said she was not included or consulted in the plan, nor was the State Department of Education. She said she is unsure if volunteers would be equipped to handle issues that may come up inside classrooms.
“All states are seeing spikes in COVID with Omicron,” she said. “But our surge is a tsunami, and we need our governor to be direct with the people, with stats, with information, with guidelines on how to lower the spread and care for one another.”
Stitt said the program should be up and running as soon as tomorrow.