LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) — Substitute teachers are at a premium as the omicron variant continues to spread, causing a teacher shortage amid quarantines. The situation is creating roles for first-time substitutes who would not otherwise be in a classroom.

“I’m hopefully helping in terms of the pressure, but then also I’m getting to see the kids,” said Clint Schnekloth, a pastor in Northwest Arkansas who is now certified as a substitute teacher.

Schnekloth said the application process was relatively easy, and he suspects the openness of the process is prompting more people to apply.

“The subbing standards in Arkansas aren’t that high,” Schnekloth said. “You don’t have to have a diploma in education.”

As the omicron variant forces more teachers to quarantine as others have left the profession permanently, districts are reaching out to prospective substitutes, former teachers and others to fill the space. State leaders repeatedly advocate for in-person learning rather than a permanent pivot to virtual classes, and some districts have only temporarily shifted when they could not get enough teachers to fill classrooms.

Gwen Combs taught in the Little Rock School District for more than a decade, but when she was refused the ability to teach remotely after a doctor wrote a note on her behalf advocating for it, she quit.

“I decided to walk away from public education completely,” Combs said.

Now, as others in her position are being asked to return to classrooms, Combs said the answer would be easy if she’s asked.

“No way,” Combs said. “You’ve had two years to build a hearty virtual program, and everybody in charge have failed. It’s a moral failure.”

Combs said schools should have pivoted to virtual learning when cases spiked, and she said the decision not to puts everybody inside the halls at risk.

“Schools are functioning as babysitting factories,” Combs said. “They are functioning as the means to keep the economy grinding. The message to all of us is keep grinding until you die, and nothing else matters.”

Schnekloth said he does not think last year’s virtual environment was meant to be a long-term solution, as many families do not have the option to go that route. He advocated following masking and vaccine guidance as the steps to keeping people in classrooms.

Schnekloth will substitute regularly through the end of the semester, he said, but his options for next year remain open.

“I did this at least in part because of the opportunity it presented to me in addition to addressing the need,” Schnekloth said.