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Teacher plus student absences could equal more school shutdowns

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 6:23 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - When it comes to closing down a school, the number of absent students is a key factor. But when teachers are absent, it presents an entirely different problem.

It’s a problem that could leave the district with no choice but to shut down a school.

When a student is absent from school class goes on. But when a teacher is absent from school -- it becomes a completely different issue.

“It becomes a challenge when there’s a 14-day quarantine period. That’s a long time to have to accommodate or be able to able to fill a vacancy in a class,” Lynthia Ross, spokeswoman for the Richmond County School System, said.

The district has a substitute teacher pool they use whenever they need to fill teacher absences. The problem is while the need for subs has gone up during the pandemic, that pool has also gone down.

“In the past, we’ve relied heavily on retirees or retired teachers for our substitute teacher pool,” Ross said. “The pandemic has resulted in the number of those retired teachers who look forward to being able to still connect with students and doing the work that they love, now being concerned about their health.”

As of today, the district reports 146 school-based employees have been quarantining for at least two weeks, and that doesn’t include the number of staff members absent for non-COVID-related reasons.

Too many teacher absences in one school, plus not enough substitutes, leaves the district no choice but to shut it down.

Ross says that was one of the main reasons Spirit Creek Middle School shut their doors for two weeks, Garrett Elementary School closed for nearly three weeks, and just today -- Glenn Hills Elementary School closed due to coronavirus activity.

“If you realize that there’s a challenge with filling those needs, it’s safer to say 'let’s pause and reset and get our pool of regular teachers and regular staff healthy,” Ross said.

It’s an indirect symptom of the virus, tying the hands of school districts and impacting students' ability to learn.

Of course, all this means the district is desperately seeking new substitute teachers to fill in those gaps.

You can apply to become a substitute teacher on the Richmond County School System website.

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