Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
As the Hamilton County School District reports rising numbers of COVID cases in schools, the School Board is attempting to compensate teachers for extra duties incurred as a result of staffing shortages.
According to the school district’s COVID-19 data dashboard, there were 1,178 active cases among students and 308 active employee cases. Nine schools had already been switched to remote learning before Thursday, and the district announced Thursday afternoon that five additional schools would be going virtual temporarily.
The following schools shifted to virtual learning:
- Rivermont Elementary, 1/20-1/24
- Nolan Elementary, 1/20-1/24
- Harrison Elementary, 1/20-1/24
- Spring Creek Elementary, 1/20 & 1/21
- Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) Lower & Upper, 1/20-1/24
- Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts (CCA), 1/20-1/24
- STEM School, 1/20 &1/21 9th & 10th grade only
- Hixson Elementary, 1/20-1/24
- Ooltewah Elementary, 1/20 & 1/21
All after-school and extracurricular activities, including athletics, were also canceled.
State policies now prohibit school systems from moving the entire district to virtual learning, but they are allowed to shift individual schools to remove learning for up to five days, pending approval of a waiver from the state.
Jeanette Omarkhail is the president of the Hamilton County Education Association. She says that teacher absences are due to personal illness but also caused by teachers who have to stay home to take care of their own children if their schools are closed. The shortage of substitutes to fill in for those teachers has forced teachers to take extra students in their classrooms or to cover classes during their planning periods.
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In their Thursday evening meeting, school board members decided to pay staff members who have to take on these extra students.
In an official statement, they said, “Hamilton County Schools recognizes the sacrifices our employees make when teaching vacancies remain unfilled during the COVID pandemic. Since the pandemic, schools across the nation are facing shortages of substitute teaching staff, and other staff members are often needed to supplement the need, often using their planning time or teaching additional students within their classes.”
They made a decision to use funds that were currently budgeted to go for substitutes to pay certified staff members for taking on those responsibilities.
All certified staff who cover classes will be paid a prorated amount of the highest daily substitute pay for the system. This is currently set at $114 per day before taxes. The reimbursement could be split between multiple teachers if they split the class.
This would apply for teachers who have to cover in-person classes or virtual classes when a substitute is not available.
Hamilton County is not the only school district faced with staffing shortages. While the issue is happening in schools across the state, several East Tennessee systems have found themselves forced to partially switch to remote learning.
Ryan Sutton, public relations coordinator for Anderson County Schools, says the lack of substitutes would have left them with fifty unstaffed classrooms. Because they could not fill that many rooms with working teachers, they were forced to cancel classes.
Knox County Schools also cancelled classes for the remainder of the week. Superintendent Bob Thomas said their schools were experiencing staffing shortages and they were only able to fill about half of those vacancies with substitutes. They ended up making the choice to cancel for the rest of the week and will be looking to see if virtual schooling will be an option for some of their hardest hit schools.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com