Educators troubled that uncertified district workers now can be substitute teachers

December 28, 2021, 1:19 PM

Teachers and their union are uneasy about a new law letting Michigan districts reassign school support workers as substitute teachers. So is the state attorney general.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed the temporary legislation Monday, said the policy change will keep schools open and let students learn from instructors they already know. The measure, which lets any district employee with a high school diploma apply to fill in for certified teachers, expires at the end of the 2021-22 academic year in June.

The governor said she’s "committed to working with the legislature to develop high-quality solutions to address these staff shortages long-term so that we can ensure that every child is able to access a quality education," Michigan Radio reports.

The Ann Arbor-based public radio group also quotes Thomas Morgan of a state teachers' union, who suggests that high pay would be a better response to address classroom shortages.

"We don't ask trained, qualified teachers to drive 45-foot-long school buses, so why are we asking trained, qualified bus drivers to lead a classroom full of kids to teach fifth-grade geometry? The two things just don’t go together," said Morgan, MEA [Michigan Education Association] spokesman.

Dana Nessel, a Democratic ally of the governor who also was elected in 2018, raises a concern Tuesday that educators share:

School employees also react on Twitter.

"Worst decision," posts Denise Naeyaert, an Ingham Intermediate School District social worker since 1999. "These individuals are not able to teach students. Another blow for the importance and training of teachers. I support the governor, but there have been many questionable decisions as of late."

"Do people not realize we also have huge shortages in the parapro, food service and bus driver positions?" asks a "proud public school teacher" tweeting as @RedWingLion. 

Monday update of Dec. 15 post below:

If they graduated from high school, public school district employees in Michigan can fill in as substitute teachers through next June.

(Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District)

The governor Monday signed legislation introduced by Republicans that will let administrative personnel, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others offset a shortage of certified educators to fill classroom gaps, The Detroit News reports from Lansing:

Normally, state law requires schools to hire substitute teachers who have at least 60 semester hours of college credit. The bill allows districts, for the current school year only, to hire any school employee as a substitute as long as the person has a high school diploma.

"Allowing schools to employ school staff that students know as substitute teachers will help keep school doors open and students learning in the classroom the rest of the school year," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says in a statement quoted by the paper.

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators back the policy relaxation. Teachers' unions and the state Department of Education oppose it. 

The News quotes the legislation's House sponsor -- Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles -- as telling a committee hearing this month: "There is an over-arching mentality especially from the educational elite that our bus drivers and our lunch ladies are just not capable of running a classroom. I got more wisdom in my high school days from the lunch lady than any of my ... teachers."

Two Michigan teachers react Monday on Twitter:

Original coverage, Dec. 15:

"Good morning, class. Instead of driving a school bus today, I'm your substitute teacher."

That public school introduction could become reality in Michigan under Republican-sponsored legislation that just passed -- if the governor signs it.


The unusual bill would let school support staff, including cafeteria workers, serve as backup teachers temporarily even without any college credits. An aide to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer didn't respond to a Bridge Michigan inquiry about whether she'll let it become law.

If she signs, school staff members who want to substitute teach this academic year need only a high school diploma or equivalency certificate. That's a temporary reprieve from the requirement that substitute teachers have an associate degree, 60 college credits or, in the case of career and technical courses, subject-matter expertise. Substitutes who are not school staff members would still have to meet those requirements.

Districts have long struggled to find enough substitute teachers, but the problem worsened during the pandemic when many teachers retired and those who remain are sometimes forced to quarantine because of coronavirus exposure. ... Before the pandemic, substitute teachers in Michigan were typically paid $80 to $85 a day, but some districts are now offering much more.

Senate passage came Tuesday night [Dec. 14] on a 23-13 vote. Four Democrats, including Sens. Sylvia Santana of Detroit and Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, crossed party lines to vote yes.

A Republican from Traverse City and one from Traverse City joined most Democrats in voting against the idea. "You're just kinda playing musical chairs with critical school employees," says Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, a former teacher.

House members voted 55-48 in favor, with Rep. Jewell Jones of Inkster as the only Democrat joining Republicans on the majority side.

Sen. Erika Geiss: "It's a staffing shell game." (Photo: Facebook)

One Senate critic, part-time educator Erika Geiss of Taylor, said the change would erode education and add to non-classroom staff shortages. Sen. Geiss has been an adjunct faculty member at Wayne County Community College District since 2013. Bridge excerpts her floor speech Tuesday:

"It's a staffing shell game. It also has no guarantee that the substitute will be teaching our kids the content that they're there to learn.

"Staff members who are not educators are wonderful people. They are valued, hardworking members of our school communities, but for the most part -- especially when we have a situation where a long-term substitute might be needed -- they aren't the ones who should be substitute teaching."

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