Determination, strength and a little bit of luck helped Cheryl Heth defeat cancer twice.

Heth is a longtime substitute teacher who taught for 34½ years in the Janesville School District. She doesn’t plan to risk possible COVID-19 exposure by returning to the classroom this fall.

“After you’ve gone through some of the treatments for cancer and have had those feelings in your body, knowing what that’s like, I don’t need any new health experiences with coronavirus. I’ve had enough for now,” she said.

Heth said she hopes to substitute-teach eventually this year, but the current health situation has too many unknowns.

Heth isn’t the only substitute teacher concerned about returning to the classroom during a pandemic. The school district is expecting a smaller pool of available substitutes to start the 2020-21 school year, Assistant Superintendent Scott Garner told The Gazette.

“Some of our subs are retirees, which puts them in the more at-risk population, and obviously when they go building to building, that could expose them to more concern,” Garner said.

The district will use online learning platforms this year, and that will change the way substitute teachers fill in for classroom teachers.

In the past, a substitute teacher received a folder with that day’s lesson plan for in-person instruction, Garner said. Using the online platforms, absent teachers could post lessons online for students while subs monitor and help where needed.

For that reason, fewer substitutes might be needed this year.

The district will send a survey to past substitute teachers to gauge their interest and willingness to work this fall. Substitutes make $120 per day in Janesville schools. They can make $130 per day if they complete professional development.

Masks and other protective equipment will be available for substitute teachers who work in the schools, Garner said.

The state Department of Public Instruction requires an associate degree for substitute teachers, but Janesville typically requires a bachelor’s degree, a substitute teacher’s permit and completed training.

Debra Hilger taught chemistry at Parker High School for 19 years until she retired in 2017. She began substitute teaching shortly afterward.

Hilger has health concerns because of her severe allergies, but she plans to be on the list of substitute teachers this fall.

“I know how to be as safe as I can be, and I’m one of those that does want to be as safe as possible,” she said. “I’m hoping that the districts I sub in will take the necessary requirements to keep us safe.”

She knows other subs who are taking the year off because of COVID-19 and wishes masks were required.

Heth also wants masks in classrooms.

“I really hope parents keep in touch with their kids and communicate the urgency of following the rules and staying safe,” Heth said. “If there was ever a good time for the best possible parenting, it’s now. That goes for everything from mental well-being to physical safety.”