LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has more than 1,300 active substitute teachers, but there have been a number of days this school year where there have not been enough to cover teacher absences.

Susan Bruner, whose two sons attend Highland Middle School, says she is "beyond frustrated" that her children have been taught by non-certified teachers this year.

"When they don't have enough, they'll pull five and six classes into one room, they'll be sitting on floors and watching movies all day," Bruner said. "One day I was at school and physically seen them take a worker out of the office to go sit in a class because they didn't have enough subs."

Several principals have told WDRB News that there have been days where they did not have enough substitutes to cover their classes -- and they themselves have had to teach.

Data provided by the district shows that the average number of teacher absences a day from August through February this school year is up 25 percent compared to last year.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, said the district has 1,300 substitute teachers.

"If schools cannot secure a substitute teacher, principals can have other certified staff in the building cover the class," Martin said. "Principals may also have teachers rotate and cover the class by paying the teachers for using their planning periods."

Martin said the problem the district has run into is that some substitute teachers are not available on certain days.

"For many of our substitute teachers, that is not the only job they have," she said. "We have folks who are not available every day of the week. Some are only available two or three days a week."

JCPS officials say it's crucial to have certified teachers in the classroom at all times.

"That's the expectation, and I know that was communicated to our principals and has been multiple times throughout the year," Martin said.

But Sandy Mayes, president of the Jefferson County Association of Educational Support Personnel, the union that represents the district's instructional aides, school clerks and paraprofessionals, says the issue has grown to be a "huge problem this year."

She says she has a number of documented cases where instructional assistants -- employees who are supposed to assist a classroom teacher with tutoring students, preparing materials and helping document progress -- are being asked to teach classes when a classroom teacher calls in sick. 

"We had an instructional assistant at Kenwood Elementary who taught a kindergarten class for three days," Mayes said.

Mayes also says there are times where an Instructor III -- employees who hold a bachelor's degree but do not have a teaching certificate -- have been assigned to teach classes, both on a short-term and long-term basis.

"We have an instructor who has been teaching a science class for most of the year," Mayes said. "She's been filling out lesson lesson plans, grading student work and has been doing the work of a classroom teacher."

Mayes said at her school, McFerran Preparatory Academy, "they will split the class up among certified teachers/staff, or a counselor or an assistant principal will teach the class."

"But that is not happening at all of our schools," she said. "We know of cases every day where students are not being taught by a certified teacher -- some of them for long periods of time."

Martin said, "If we do have that happening, it should not be happening."

She added that any employee being asked to do a job they are not classifed for can file a grievance.

Mayes said aside from not holding a teaching certificate, instructional assistants and Instructor III's don't know how to handle delicate situations, such as when a child is on an Individualized Education Plan and needs special accommodations.

Bruner's son, Thomas, is one of those students.

"The subs don't know about his IEP so they aren't doing the things they are required by law to do," Bruner said.

Thomas Bruner said there have been "too many times to count" that his classroom teacher hasn't been at school.

"We just sit and watch movies and when we have substitutes the whole class just goes crazy and they don't know how to fix it," he said.

The issue of not having enough subs was part of the reason why a group of JCPS employees rallied before Tuesday's school board meeting. Saying they are being asked to work jobs they are neither qualified nor classified for. The group, part of the union, asked for better treatment.

"There comes a point where you have to stand up and say this isn't right," Mayes said. "We are tired of the way we are being treated and we are not going to take it anymore."

In addition to the substitute teacher issue, JCPS has also faced a bus driver shortage this year.


Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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