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'All to the detriment of student learning' | School districts facing staffing challenges amid COVID-19 surge

According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), there were 1,029 teacher absences requiring substitutes on Friday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The spread of COVID-19 is causing staffing problems for local school districts with teachers and students back in the classroom.

According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), there were 1,029 teacher absences requiring substitutes on Friday. The district was able to fill 400 of those spots.

Out of the district's 907 permanent school nutrition employees, 145 were out absent Friday, with another 25 temporary staff members out of 116 who did not report to work.

At the end of last week, there were 98 bus driver absences within CMS, with an additional 48 drivers who were on approved leave. The absences impacted 146 routes, with delays averaging between 15 to 30 minutes.

As students head back to class, the growing number of staffing problems in local school districts is an issue the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is watching closely.

“It’s chaos on so many levels and all to the detriment of student learning, which is of tremendous concern to us,” Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, said.

CMS was already facing an increase in employees leaving positions within the district. CMS saw more than 1,577 employees leave positions in the district between Aug. 1 and Dec. 8, 2021. The total number of employees who left the district during the same time period the year before was 1,053.

“We track districts around the country pretty carefully,” Walsh said. “I’m not seeing any district report that level of resignation.”

Walsh said she doesn’t believe the resignations and staffing challenges within North Carolina school districts can all be blamed on the pandemic.

"This is an opportunity for school districts and the state to examine some policies that they’ve long had in place that happened well before COVID to look at issues like teacher pay or bus driver pay or substitute pay and say, 'You know, maybe this isn’t the way we should be running a school system'," Walsh said.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 1,864 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff within CMS, with another 2,673 students and staff quarantined.

RELATED: CMS: Over 1,200 students, 600 teachers positive for COVID-19

Mecklenburg County health officials said they are working with CMS to keep students in the classroom amid the Omicron surge and staffing shortages.

“I believe in-person education is a high priority for us in this community and really, across the country,” Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington said. “We are working very closely with our partners at CMS to provide every support possible to assist them to be able to keep kids in classrooms.”

Over in Union County, school leaders have decided to change the district's communication strategy for reporting COVID-19 cases. Instead of maintaining a weekly COVID-19 dashboard, the district is recommending families refer to county and state health leaders. The full statement from Union County Public Schools is as follows: 

"Beginning Jan. 7, 2022, Union County Public Schools will no longer publish a weekly COVID-19 dashboard. Due to constant changes in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit and the five-day quarantine period, more accurate data is available through Union County Public Health, the State of North Carolina and the Centers for Disease Control. 

Families will continue to receive daily communication when positive, impactful COVID-19 cases are reported at their child’s school."

Contact Kendall Morris at kmorris2@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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