The Grand Forks school district is instituting rule changes allowing paraprofessionals to serve as substitute teachers in an effort to ease a potential shortage caused by the pandemic, Superintendent Terry Brenner told the Herald earlier this week.

The state’s Education Standards and Practices Board met Thursday, Sept. 10, and approved a motion to write emergency rules that would allow paras to obtain a substitute license, said Rebecca Pitkin, ESPB executive director.

“That is the process we’re in right now,” Pitkin said Thursday. “We hope to have those finished by the beginning of next week.”

Currently, paras are certified by the state Department of Public Instruction; they are not licensed as teachers by the ESPB.

“(They) are hired at the local level, and each district has different requirements,” Pitkin said.

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Under the new rules, paraprofessionals would be allowed to fill in for teachers who must stay home in quarantine or isolation if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to a positive case.

Brenner discussed this and other pressures the district is facing with Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel in a conversation live-streamed Tuesday, Sept. 8, on the Herald’s website.

Typically, a fair number of people who serve as substitute teachers for the school district are veteran teachers who are retired, Brenner has noted. Because of their age or underlying health conditions, which place them at greater risk for COVID-19, some have decided not to substitute teach, he said.

In addition to paras, the potential shortage of substitute teachers also could be alleviated by university students who are preparing for a career in K-12 education, Brenner said.

University students may apply for a substitute license as soon as they have earned 48 credit hours in any discipline from an institution of higher learning, according to Pitkin, who said most education majors at UND do obtain the license as soon as they are eligible.

Substitute teaching is of most interest to UND education students during their senior year “and typically that is when they’re out student teaching in the schools,” said Jenny Bladow, director of teacher education at UND.

“Of the students who are out there right now student teaching, I would guess that almost all of them that are placed in North Dakota schools, are either in the process of getting their sub license, or already have it, because that allows them to potentially be paid for some days during their student-teaching experience,” Bladow said.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order Sept. 3 that is meant to further ease a potential substitute teacher shortage. The order overrides the code that bars substitute teachers from serving in a classroom for more than 10 consecutive days.

The change was necessary “to increase the availability of licensed teaching professionals and maintain continuity of instruction for all students,” the governor’s order states.

UND students who are studying to become teachers and have secured a substitute license will benefit from this change, said Bladow, noting that about 60 UND students are student-teaching this semester all over the nation.

“For those students who are ready to take that on, how great for them that they can be that consistent educator in the room even in the absence of the cooperating teacher that might need ... to go out for quarantine purposes,” Bladow said.