SCS says teachers are struggling, burned out due to staffing shortages

Published 11:59 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022

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School board members met during a lengthy work session Tuesday afternoon to discuss the many challenges teachers and staff are facing in dealing with the current Covid surge.

One of the biggest issues has been a lack of available substitute teachers, which has been forcing teachers to cover multiple classrooms. Superintendent Jarrod Dennis mentioned that teachers are often having to teach during their planning time, referred to as “fifth period,” as a result of their colleagues missing time.

“Our need to cover classrooms is critical at this point,” said Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

She said the teacher shortage is worse now than it was last year.

During the last full week of January 2021, there were 253 teachers out of school, though substitutes were available to fill about 99 percent of the vacant positions. By comparison, last week, there were 406 teachers absent and the district had enough substitutes to fill only 58 percent of the positions.

The lack of teachers has led to all sorts of short-term solutions to lessen the impact, Blake-Lewis said, including combining classrooms, having teachers give up their planning time and splitting up classes to place students at various locations where adults would be present such as the cafeteria, media center and the gym.

“In terms of quality of instruction, that is no instruction,” Blake-Lewis said.

As teachers continue to push through despite the substitute shortage, many are stressed and struggling.

“It’s burning up our employees. They’re just sick,” Dennis said. “They say, ‘I just can’t keep covering everybody’s classes all the time.’ ”

To try and help the situation and keep more students and staff in schools, the district last week started the voluntary test-to-stay option for teachers and athletes. For those eligible who were exposed to someone that tested positive, almost 100 percent of staff have participated.

Participants receive a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 on the day of exposure (day 1) and at days 3 and 5 following initial known exposure. Students and staff who have been exposed either at school or in the community can take part in the study; the only exception is if they were exposed to the virus via their household or another congregate living setting.

If the COVID-19 tests are negative, the participants can remain in school, as long as they wear a mask for 10 days. A positive COVID-19 test or the development of symptoms on any day after exposure would require isolation according to requirements outlined in the NC Strong Schools Toolkit.

Beginning this week, the testing option has been expanded to include all students and, though only two full days in, about 80 percent of those identified as having been exposed have opted to participate.

“It is a great deal of work,” said Beverly Pennington, Stanly County Schools director of student services, noting the new program has been taxing for nurses, who are working longer hours. EMTs have provided additional assistance at certain schools.

Dennis said his main goal is keeping students and staff in schools and not reverting back to remote learning.

School quarantines declining

Despite the struggles teachers and students are dealing with, the number of quarantines has been falling over the past few weeks.

The district tallied 705 quarantines between Jan. 23-29, according to updated data from the district’s COVID-19 online dashboard. That’s a 37 percent decrease from the previous week, when there were 1,117 students and staffers quarantined and a 74 percent decrease from two weeks prior, when more than 2,600 people were out.

The total accounts for roughly 7.5 percent of the estimated 9,400 students and staff across the district — a marked improvement compared with the 12 percent who missed time the week prior.

The district also tallied 174 positive cases last week, down from the 346 positives reported the week before.

Though no action was taken, board members discussed the possibility of temporarily requiring masks on a school-by-school basis, similar to what’s happening in Surry County. The district has been mask optional since last October.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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