"To think of kids not talking, not touching, not playing. That's asking a lot of kids," says veteran LAUSD substitute teacher Annie O'Neil.
The substitutes could play a vital role.
If classroom teaching resumes, how is a classroom disinfected if the sub is called in to replace a coronavirus-infected teacher? They must also be able to switch to online teaching.
"If a kid in a classroom gets it, does the whole classroom then go to remote learning," asks O'Neil?
For now, the district tells parents to be ready for at least some remote learning. That raises other questions for subs.
If a sick teacher can assign students online homework, will that mean less work for substitutes and therefore less pay?
"I don't think the district can fully estimate how much work there's going to be. It's going to be less, definitely, but I don't know if they'd be willing to compensate us for that change or that loss," says substitute teacher Danielle Luedner.
National education policy specialist Dr. Mitchell Lingo believes substitutes might have more work than ever. COVID-19 could raise enough health concerns for teachers to leave the profession or retire, creating sudden vacancies. Lingo recounts a report from a colleague.
"He was telling me that they had 14 openings for mathematics and no one has applied for those positions," says Dr. Lingo.
In recent months, some students have found benefits in the virtual classroom. One told O'Neil that it is easier to focus.
"One girl said, 'well you know there's less disruptions because the teacher can just mute people," recounted O'Neil.
As options are weighed, Dr. Lingo urges school districts to take stock right now of their substitute labor force.
"Find out if they are going to be willing to substitute teach, what schools they are willing to teach in, how often they are willing to teach," says Lingo, because schools may need all the help they can get.
Coronavirus: Health officials suggest LA County schools have 'Plan B' for reopening if community transmission spikes