WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — As students prepare to return to school this fall, administrations are expecting a shortage of substitute teachers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A substitute teacher shortage is not new. We’ve seen this decline since 2009-2010,” Lezlie Soda with Edustaff said.

Edustaff is a company that provides substitute teachers and other temporary school faculty for schools in nine states, including 400 districts in the state of Michigan. The Grand Rapids-based company is the largest agency of its kind in the state and the third largest in the nation.

Soda says the shortage of students pursuing full-time teaching careers has also impacted temporary positions.

“If you speak with Grand Valley State University or Central Michigan University, they are graduating fewer and fewer students from the college of education,” Soda added.

With COVID-19 impacting every other part of schooling, Edustaff is predicting it will also have an impact on substitute teaching.

“Even with strategies to mitigate community spread of COVID-19, it’s realistic to expect that COVID-19 will have a presence in our schools,” said Godfrey Lee Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston.

Polston says on any given day, their district needs 10 substitute teachers across their buildings. He says if teachers become ill this fall or need to go into quarantine, the demand for an already scarce number of substitute teachers will become even more difficult to find.

“I think you plan as best you can with the understanding that there will have to be some adapting on the fly,” Polston said.

The district says because the substitute shortage has been an issue for several years now, they started working to hire permanent fill-ins.

“It’s critical. We want every classroom covered by a teacher every day, and so if there is a teacher that calls out that morning because of an illness or family illness, we have someone who can cover that class,” Polston said.

Edustaff says they currently have about 17,000 substitutes to cover 400 Michigan school districts, but they’re hiring as many as possible to combat a shortage this fall.

“We’re almost not going to know what it’s going to be like until we’re in it. So, we’re doing everything we can to prepare,” Soda said.

Edustaff says they’ve partnered with local school districts to put together a clear plan for teaching during the pandemic ahead of the school year. They say it could include training for virtual substitute teaching if that becomes necessary.

Edustaff is also extending part-time job offers to college students who meet the criteria and have at least 60 credits. They say they will likely need all the help they can get.