How SouthCoast Schools Are Dealing With Major COVID-Related Staff Shortages
There are roughly 40 staff members at the Wood School in Fairhaven. Seventeen of them were out sick on Thursday, a vast majority of them due to COVID-related issues. If the staff members didn't have COVID themselves, they were isolating because of close contacts.
The struggle was so real that Fairhaven Superintendent of Schools Tara Kohler told us she thought that she was going to be teaching fourth grade yesterday.
She wasn't kidding.
With COVID numbers soaring on the SouthCoast, how exactly does a school deal with such a widespread absence on any given day?
Has Their Roster of Substitutes Grown?
Yes. Mike Devoll, principal at Old Rochester Regional High School, said that one strategy they've used is hiring college students.
"A lot of them are ORR graduates, so they are familiar with what the atmosphere is like and what we expect," he said.
Devoll said that while ORR hasn't struggled with staff shortages, they have been hit hard with student illness. This week has seen student absences between two and three times normal levels.
Is Remote Learning an Option?
No. On Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker made his stance clear. The state's public schools are expected to commit to in-person learning. Baker went as far to say, "They (the school districts) can use snow days, but they do need to provide their kids with 180 days of in-person learning."
Yes. Tara Kohler said that she is certainly exploring the option of combining classes.
"In my mind, if you have 75 fourth graders and only three teachers are in today, why not just divide the 75 kids by three, instead of trying to keep the classrooms as they typically are?" she said.
What If Healthy Staff Levels Continue to Fall?
It's a struggle across the Commonwealth; in fact, the education commissioner conducted a meeting with the state's superintendents Wednesday afternoon encouraging schools to stay opened in spite of staff shortages. However, Kohler said she'll close if necessary.
"We're not going to jeopardize the safety of a school," she said. "I have in the back of my mind what level would potentially be unsafe to run and I would consider canceling a building if I had to – but that's our worst case scenario, of course."