Staff Shortage as Students Return to School

Linda+Richardson%2C+substitute+teacher%2C+teaches+all+her+students%2C+both+in-person+and+virtual%2C+over+zoom+from+her+house.+%22Although+I+still+have+to+zoom+with+the+students+rather+than+be+in+the+classroom%2C+which+is+the+ideal+for+both+students+and+the+teacher%2C+I+feel+I+can+still+interact+with+the+students+and+guide+them+through+the+material+that+is+presented+in+class%2C%22+Richardson+said.+

Media by Marin Ellington

Linda Richardson, substitute teacher, teaches all her students, both in-person and virtual, over zoom from her house. “Although I still have to zoom with the students rather than be in the classroom, which is the ideal for both students and the teacher, I feel I can still interact with the students and guide them through the material that is presented in class,” Richardson said.

Jenna-Mae Schultz, senior, was looking forward to returning to an in-person learning environment where she could experience more interactive learning that was lacking in online school. 

However, her mood soon shifted as she realized her sixth hour geoscience class would remain taught through Zoom on a daily basis. 

Her teacher, Kevin Koch, had already called in a long-term sub to teach the class online. However, sub Linda Richardson was forced to quarantine due to COVID exposure and continues to teach the class virtually while another sub is present in the classroom. 

“I feel like coming to school for that class is sort of redundant,” Schultz said. “Our lessons are all online, and we do what we would do at home with a babysitter and the risk of COVID.”

As students and staff return to an in-person schedule, RSD faces the looming issue of a staff shortage. 

Schools have an allotted amount of subs present in the building every day. However, subs are called into teaching in classes regardless of what they may specialize in academically. 

This issue is proving to be disappointing for students such as Schultz, and it also becomes a continuation of the learning curve, due to a lack of hands on experience, present in online school many students thought they would now be avoiding.

“I understand the challenges COVID brings to staff shortages and that we are trying to keep people safe, but I feel we should’ve postponed returning to school till there was a solution to the shortages,” Schultz said. 

The amount of substitutes is also slim with the opening of all RSD schools and the growing number of staff members out for more than one or two days. 

Amy McCally, secretary to Principal Dr. Steve Hankins, has been working, along with other members of the administration team, to provide a smooth transition to in-person learning and handle any problems.

“I am here to support students and teachers in any way that I can,” McCally said. “It is too early to determine that there are any issues with students returning to school, but no matter what the outcome is with the pandemic, I am committed to doing my part to do what I can to support MHS and the community.”

McCally said the administration has been open to considering all potential solutions as they fill absent teachers’ spots.

Beyond having subs allotted for each school, staff members may pick up additional classes for fellow absent teachers and are reimbursed, and occasionally, teachers who are out teach from home while another staff member monitors in-person students.

“We have had challenges with subs cancelling at the last minute, but our staff pulled together to get all of the classes covered and to continue with plans from teachers that were out of the building,” McCally said. 

The question of returning to an all-virtual schedule has also arisen during this time, and official guidelines have been sent out in an email by Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles. 

“It is not my plan to move to a remote-learning environment,” Dr. Miles said. “And if we have to move to a remote-learning environment, most likely, it will be school by school not district wide at any one time.”

RSD has found the actual transmission of COVID-19 within schools is limited, and exposure to the virus mostly occurs outside of the school environment and is unknowingly brought in.

Mitigation strategies are being implemented and encouraged throughout the district to combat COVID-19 and prolong the amount of time students are able to remain in-person. 

Facebook movements have also been started by many groups advocating for willing parents to consider signing up to be substitute teachers.

“We would love more substitute teachers,” Dr. Miles said. “We are certainly appreciative of those efforts and would love to have as many qualified substitute teachers as we can have that would assist us with keeping our schools open for our children.”

RSD has more than 138 contact tracers who have gone through training with Johns Hopkins University, and follow up when necessary if someone becomes a positive case.

“As you look at the community health indicators beyond our schools, they’re not headed in the right direction,” Dr. Miles said. “I just remain optimistic that we’re able to keep our schools open for in-person learning, and we will do our very very best to make that so.”