SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The 22News I-Team has received some complaints from parents about local schools employing teachers who are not certified to teach in Massachusetts. The I-Team dug into what the state requirements are.

To be a teacher in Massachusetts, you must have a license. That requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree, the completion of a state-approved teacher prep program, and passing the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure.

In the absence of a license, a waiver is required. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, hardship waivers are given when a school has not been able to hire a licensed and qualified educator for a particular position. The waiver is a one-year exemption.

According to Matt Brunell, the co-executive director of the Springfield Empowerment Zone, there can be a few reasons why a teacher might not have that required licensure.

“That can be because they haven’t gone through a teacher education program quite yet, or they’re in the process of doing that,” Brunell explained. “Or, they’ve had some hardship that requires them to start that process a little bit later than others who are licensed.”

A waiver comes into play most often with specialized or industry-specific classes, usually at the high school level, like healthcare, engineering, or graphic design.

“We can’t find a teacher with a license in that specific area because of the extensive experience needed within the professional world in order to have the ability to steward student interest in that work,” Brunell said.

Districts have to prove that the applicant is working towards becoming certified. Over the past several years, the number of hardship waivers issued by the state has been decreasing – down from nearly 1,579 in the 2019-2020 school year to 644 last year.

A DESE spokesperson says the department believes this decrease is because of emergency waivers. They allow someone to temporarily be licensed while working toward a traditional license. Right now, about 4,000 people across the state are employed with an emergency license.

“Frequently, these teachers who are just getting started will apply for emergency waivers,” Brunell said. “We bring them into the profession, give them enhanced support and mentoring in these early years because we know that a more diverse teaching staff is really good for the kids.”

These emergency waivers became available during the pandemic. DESE told the 22News I-Team that they do not track the number of vacant teaching positions in the state.

The Massachusetts Teacher’s Association has been pushing for legislation that would develop an alternative process for granting licenses. They believe the current process of licensure is discriminatory against educators of color and educators for whom English is not their first language. In the bill being considered by state lawmakers, factors like whether a candidate is certified to teach in another state or has a master’s degree or doctorate would be used to determine if that person can get a license to teach.