For metro Atlanta’s teaching subs, coronavirus shutdown pay varies

When schools began shutting down last week, taking learning online as government officials work to ward off the coronavirus’ continued spread, Dara Rose panicked.

Rose, a substitute for 15 years, said school districts have not been clear with how they would handle paying —or not paying — a fleet of workers whose workload can fluctuate between four-day weeks and no assignments at all.

“I’ve cried myself to sleep the last few days,” said Rose, who said she averages three workdays a week for the DeKalb County School District.

Rose is one of more than 20,000 substitute teachers working in metro Atlanta alone. All districts have announced continuing pay for long-term substitute teachers, who effectively have taken over classroom instruction for the year out of necessity or due to teachers being on leave for various reasons, among other things. For others, it may depend on how much they’ve worked recently, or whether they’ve been asked to help with digital learning.

Some won’t be paid at all.

DeKalb County School District officials announced day-to-day subs will continue to receive pay based on their average assignment load since the school year began.

“Subbing is my bread and butter,” Rose said, adding it allows her flexibility to pursue other endeavors. “All my other lines of work have been shut down. This is really reassuring and very hopeful.”

Many substitute teachers cobble together their income using a string of contract positions to make ends meet.

Amid the shutdowns caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by this strain of coronavirus, they’re finding many of those jobs are being shut down as well. Rose said she also works as an athletic club manager as well as a swim instructor and coach. Those gigs have been placed on hold.

Some districts said they were looking for ways to continue utilizing substitute teachers during the shutdown.

Fulton County Schools is paying long-term substitute teachers who are responsible for day-to-day classroom operations amid the school building shutdown.

“The district is not extending ongoing pay to temporary, substitute [or] contracted staff,” a spokesman said.

Cobb County Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale is expected to propose continuing pay for all the district’s salaried and hourly employees. It is not clear whether that includes substitute teachers. A spokeswoman for the district did not respond directly to a question on how substitute teachers are categorized.

“More specifics will be available after Board action is taken on Thursday,” the spokeswoman said.

Clayton County Schools officials have decided all employees will continue to be paid, including day-to-day substitutes, who will be paid based on the average number of days they worked for the district in the past three months.

In Gwinnett County, substitutes there will continue to be paid if they are working during the digital learning days.

Some districts, including Atlanta Public Schools as well as Fayette and Coweta county school systems, did not respond to requests for information.

Tonia Kelly said she has not heard either way from Douglas County Schools whether she would be paid. At the time the school buildings closed, she was working five days a week, and had assignments scheduled through the beginning of May.

Douglas County Superintendent Trent North said recently that his district had not yet developed a plan for its substitute teachers.

“While we have not reached a decision about substitutes, we are working to see if we can meet federal and state guidelines through digital learning so that employees paid through state and federal grants can be compensated,” North said.

Kelly said she works other jobs, too. But those — contract work at the Fox Theater and Truist Park — also have been canceled.

“I’ve just got to figure something out,” she said. “I know I’ll have checks on the 31st. I literally don’t know what I’m going to do afterward.

“I have a strong belief that I’m going to be OK, so that’s what’s getting me through.”

Reporter Arlinda Broady contributed to this story.