Oklahoma's Substitute Teacher Order Not New to Students Already Being Taught by Police

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt's latest order allowing state employees to sub as teachers amid the national staffing shortage is nothing new to students in the Oklahoma City metro area, who are already being taught by police officers.

Stitt, who announced the new order on Tuesday afternoon, said state employees would be ready to mobilize into classrooms as soon as Wednesday, but some classes were already seeing uniformed teachers before the order was announced.

Throughout the day on Tuesday, several officers from the Moore Police Department served as teachers at three different elementary schools.

"Moore PD is a proud community partner of Moore Public Schools. This week, several on-duty officers are serving in the classroom as schools continue to face teacher and staff shortages," the department announced in a Facebook post.

"Today, officers Stromski and Lewis covered 6th grade classes at Apple Creek Elementary. Additional officers are serving Houchin and Broadmoore," MPD said. "We are thankful to be able to assist our community during these difficult times."

Moore Police Chief Todd Gibson told Newsweek there are a total of six to eight officers subbing at various schools during various times this week.

"Moore Police are in and working with the schools on a routine and daily basis. This is just another opportunity to expand an already healthy relationship," Gibson said. "The community is united together to support a positive environment for the children of this wonderful city.

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

Stitt's new order will allow for more state workers to take on the position of classroom teachers over the next three months as Oklahoma attempts to keep students in-person amid a shortage of educators.

The governor said the switchover is not unlike other roles state employees have had to take on since the pandemic began and those who begin working as substitute teachers will continue to receive their usual paychecks while reporting to work across the state's public schools.

"The core mission of all of our 32,000 state employees is to serve the public and to help make Oklahoma a top ten state," he said on Tuesday. "Throughout the pandemic, we've seen state employees, they've answered the call. They switched and moved to different state agencies where we needed help at that specific time. And right now, that means helping out, stepping up to help our schools."

Classroom Police Officers Substitute Teachers Oklahoma Stitt
Police officers substituted for teachers at Moore Public Schools on Tuesday. Students participate in a lesson in their classroom at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on September 27, 2021 in New York City. Michael Loccisano/Getty

In recent weeks, several school districts in Oklahoma have been forced to close or move to virtual learning due to a large number of teachers, school staff and students who are sick with COVID-19 or quarantining due to a close exposure.

Superintendents have called on their local communities to step up and fill those vacancies in order to ensure kids continue in-person instruction.

On Tuesday, Stitt echoed those remarks, saying, "I'm encouraging everyone in our different communities around the state to reach out to the local school district and find out what they can do to help them. Maybe that is substituting."

Although state educators have thanked the governor for acknowledging the critical staffing shortages, many say the new order is not a sustainable solution to the growing problem.

"The teacher pipeline and sub shortages were issues before the pandemic, and COVID has exacerbated these problems. While state employees and businesses may be able to help in the short term, we need to continue searching for long-term solutions," the Oklahoma Education Association said in a statement.

"We all agree it is best for schools to be open, and I appreciate that the governor has finally recognized this crisis. But we need caring, equipped teachers in classrooms and for the focus to be on learning," Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister added. "This gesture is a cup of water on a raging fire. The immediate problem is that we are in the middle of a tremendous surge, impacting more than schools."

Hofmeister called on Stitt to take further action and deploy the National Guard to assist with staffing shortages in other school roles, such as bus drivers and lunchroom managers.

"With the stroke of a pen, the governor could untie the hands of schools to mitigate spread and allow hospitals to increase capacity," she said in a statement.

Update 19/01/22 3:57 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Moore Police Chief Todd Gibson.