Faced with a shortage of substitute teachers, the San Jose Unified School District is calling on its counselors to step in.
The unusual move has raised concerns among advocates, who fear students will lose much-needed mental health services and face anxiety after returning to class after months of distance learning due to COVID-19 .
Starting this week, school and child welfare counselors, intervention specialists, student services coaches, among others in the largest school district in San Jose, will be “on call” several times a month. for substitute teaching duties – a move that will hurt students who need mental health support, members of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition said.
The coalition fought to remove police from campuses and advocated for more mental health services for students.
“It’s a loser situation,” said Crystal Calhoun, a member of the coalition whose grandchildren are students in the district. “After 18 months of the pandemic, students are having suicidal thoughts… and anxiety. These kids need more advice now, and not less.
Under the plan, around 130 to 140 counselors and specialists are required to enroll in supplemental education four days per month. They will receive $ 300 per day for the replacement, which is $ 60 more than the normal replacement rate. Employees can specify their level and preferred subjects, but they can be deployed to any school in the district.
The plan was supported and approved by the San Jose Teachers Association.
Four members of the coalition marched outside the district headquarters on Thursday to protest the decision before the school board met inside. They called on the district to prioritize student mental health.
“There are strong concerns for this setback on the board,” said Kristen Brown, whose child is a student in the district. “I’m going to echo the fact that we need to invest more in mental health, in counselors.”
Superintendent Nancy Albarrán admitted that requiring counselors to become substitute teachers is “not ideal,” but the SJUSD faces a serious shortage of educators. Right now, the San Jose School District has about 120 substitute teachers, which is half of what it usually has in a typical year.
“I want to correct the record… specialist staff have always been called upon to replace,” said Albarrán. “We’re in a crisis… and I don’t want the board to think we’re not putting student mental health first. “
Specialized staff include counselors, consultant teachers, instructional coaches, intervention specialists, librarians, student support counselors and student services coaches.
According to the superintendent, SJUSD has asked 27 specialist staff to teach since the plan went into effect on Wednesday. Twelve of them are advisers.
The emergency plan was approved by the district and the San Jose Teachers Association last week, according to a councilor who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“Our students need mental health supports more than ever,” said Jeffie Khalsa, parent and coalition member. She added that elementary schools in the district only have one counselor on each campus.
School board members briefly addressed the issue at Thursday’s meeting. Administrator Teresa Castellanos applauded the district for finding solutions to an endemic crisis.
“I appreciate that everyone in our district is stepping in to help with our submarine shortage,” she said.
Police back on campus
The move comes as tensions mount between the district and the Equity Coalition after the district chose to bring police back to campus for special school events.
The SJUSD voted to terminate its contract with the San Jose Police Department in June under pressure from its supporters. But weeks later, the district approved a controversial plan that allows police to serve as security guards.
The school district voted Thursday to approve contracts to hire two cops for special school events. The contracts expire on Dec. 10, according to the district.
Officers Adolfo Acosta and Albert Morales have each signed a contract for $ 4,000, but they will be paid based on hours worked, SJUSD spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox said.
District officials said it was essential to ensure safety during special events and they did not want the responsibility to fall on teachers. But the coalition, which includes students, educators and community organizers, has spent 13 months demanding a police-free campus and continues to protest the move.
“The only use of the police on campus right now is extracurricular activities – soccer games, dancing,” Maddox said.
As tension soared, Calhoun yelled for several minutes at school board members at a meeting in August for endorsing the plan. The council quickly left the meeting and did not return until after the coalition left.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.