Substitute teacher shortage opens the door for predators

As children return to school from distance learning, California continues to deal with teacher and substitute teacher shortages. The problem has the potential to open the door for pedophiles.

Educator sex abuse statisticsIt's no secret that predators gravitate to environments where there are children. They choose schools over nursing homes. According to Professor Charol Shakeshaft, an internationally recognized researcher, nearly 1 out of every ten kids are victims of educator sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct ranges from inappropriate conduct to criminal sexual behavior. Substitute teachers account for 13% of the problem.

How we got here

Compared to years past, more older teachers are choosing early retirement, and not all teachers are agreeing to return for the 2021-2022 school year. The result is that there is a greater demand for teachers than what is available. For many school districts, there are not enough substitute teachers either. San Jose Unified School District Deputy Supt. Stephen McMahon told San Jose Spotlight that the district would typically have between 200 to 300 substitute teachers each day. But the effects of the pandemic have thinned the available work pool. Now the district has about 100 subs each day.

Scrambling for a solution

The lack of substitute teachers is forcing many schools to use counselors and administrators as alternative substitutes. School districts are also trying to entice would-be substitutes and teachers with greater pay and incentives. However, school districts are also competing with employers in all industries to find qualified workers. 

Struggling to find substitutes in rural California, for instance, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said, "I don't have a money problem, I have a resource problem." The problem is not enough people to fill the classrooms, leaving California school districts to consider easing the process to become a substitute.    

What it takes to be a substitute teacher

According to California's Commission on Teaching Credentialing, the process to become an emergency substitute teacher in California involves submitting college transcripts, with an applicant needing a college degree or higher, fingerprinting, and acceptable college-prep coursework or exams. When the application is approved, the Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit is valid for one year and "authorizes the holder to serve as a day-to-day substitute teacher in any classroom, including preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1-12 inclusive, or in classes organized primarily for adults. The holder may serve as a substitute for no more than 30 days for any one teacher during the school year, except in a special education classroom, where the holder may serve for no more than 20 days for any one teacher during the school year." The permit can be continuously renewed. 

As the need becomes desperate for substitute and permanent teachers, school districts must not sacrifice student safety when screening the adults entrusted to care for and protect the school children. 

Desperate times could lead school districts to accept anyone who can show up to work or eliminate steps that would have disqualified some applicants. In Oregon, for instance, school districts are even temporarily eliminating the college degree requirement for substitutes. However, school officials see that as a way to staff the schools with a greater pool of potential applicants. Unfortunately, this may increase the chances of hiring would-be predators or abusers.  

Substitute teachers committing sexual misconduct

Stories of substitute teachers abusing and engaging in sexual misconduct are abundant. For example, a San Diego substitute teacher, Andrew Jared Primes, was arrested in July 2021 for possession of child pornography. He had been a substitute at both the Poway Unified School District and San Dieguito Union High School District. He was also a leader at the Boy Scout of America Fiesta Island Summer Camp. Detectives were investigating if Primes had used school computers to send and receive the child pornographic images. 

Stopping predators before they hurt children

It is the unfortunate reality that sexual predators gravitate towards environments where children are located. Unfortunately, unless a sexual predator has been caught previously, these hidden and sexually deviant crimes are not found in a fingerprint scan or background search. This creates a huge opportunity for predators. Plus, substitute teachers could quickly victimize students and move to a different school before anyone grew suspicious. Thus, more than ever, schools must properly supervise new teachers and teach current teachers that they don't catch predators molesting a child. Instead, you see them breaking the rules and crossing boundaries. And when that is observed, teachers have a responsibility to immediately step in and alert authorities before it is too late.

As parents and responsible adults, we all need to do our part in protecting our children. We do not always want to think that sexual abuse can happen, but it does. A teacher paying particular attention to a child might seem so innocent or flattering. However, this could be the start of something more dubious.

Recognize the signs for grooming. Grooming happens with most sexual predators trying to gain the victim's trust. It can be from any adult, in any setting. If you suspect that sexual misconduct has occurred, take all necessary steps to report that sexual predator to the police. The child may be confused, ashamed, or traumatized by the abuse and experience. The child must know that it was not their fault. No one asks to be a victim of sexual abuse, but victims deserve justice and to feel empowered to regain control of their lives.