JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The new school year is in full swing for many, but the American Federation of Teachers says the lack of substitute teachers is concerning.

Richard Franklin with AFT says they’ve seen around a 70% decrease in applicants due to COVID-19.

“We knew there would be a shortage, but we didn’t know it was going to be this big. It’s been bigger than we anticipated,” Franklin said.

Franklin says he understands why since part-time workers do not receive benefits and the pay is low.

“If they catch COVID, they don’t have the resources or the insurance to protect themselves to make sure they survive.”

Also due to the pandemic, the need for substitute teachers is even greater.

Teachers will still need to take off for normal reasons, like maternity leave and regular sick pay, but may also need extra time off should they or their class contract the virus.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin says his school system is prepared with regular subs, but they are in need of more long-term substitutes.

“We anticipate as we go along, it’s going to get more and more dire for us, so that’s why we are urging people to in their own communities, if people are interested in substituting, to contact our office so that we can sign them up and get them trained,” Dr. Gonsoulin said.

Dr. Gonsoulin says they are offering training and resources to assist substitute teachers with online instruction and taking safety precautions to protect educators in the classrooms.

The shortage is a state-wide concern.

The AFT is encouraging anyone willing to apply and help, to do it for the students.

” If anybody wants to help, I don’t think the district would turn them down,” Franklin said.

Franklin suggests reaching out to the school districts and finding the ones whose current safety guidelines fit your comfort zone.

He’s also encouraging state and federal lawmakers to consider additional help for educators this year.

If you would like to apply to substitute in Jefferson County, Dr. Gonsoulin says you can call 205-379-2000.