KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Several school districts in East Tennessee will be closed for the remainder of the week due to staff shortages.
At least one district has moved its eighth through 12th grade students to virtual learning for the same reason.
Anderson, Blount and Knox County school leaders said canceling class or moving virtual isn’t an easy decision to make. They know parents have to change their schedules as a result. Numerous people are involved in the decision.
“Yesterday there were probably around 13 or 14 people in the room, of supervisors of the different curriculum levels, transportation – with consideration of bus drivers also having COVID and being quarantined as well,” said Ryan Sutton, public relations coordinator for Anderson County Schools.
The question leaders have to answer before deciding to close or go virtual is if there would be enough staff to teach all of the students, not just supervise.
“We noticed that the number of (substitute teachers) that we did not have to fill classrooms, that means, classrooms without any type of substitute or instructor would have been at 50 empty classrooms yesterday,” Sutton said.
Sutton said that’s too big of a gap to combine classes.
Bob Thomas, superintendent of Knox County Schools, said the ratios in their classrooms were just as sparse.
“Earlier today we were looking at 684 staff absences I think for tomorrow, with a fill-rate, meaning the substitutes to fill those classes, at about 55%,” Thomas said.
For now, those districts are canceling class for the remainder of the week.
Thomas said over the next couple of days, school administration would discuss whether to apply for virtual for some of the schools in the district.
“We know some situations, some schools are probably having more of a problem than other schools,” Thomas said. “So we, over the next couple of days, we’ll look at that possibility, and as we identify schools that may fit that category of being able to go virtual, we’ll submit a waiver to the commissioner.”
Mike Winstead, director of Maryville City Schools, said they chose to fill out the waiver for eighth through 12th grade students Tuesday morning.
“We sent that in right before 8 a.m. yesterday morning, and (Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn) replied with approval within 15 minutes,” Winstead said.
Winstead said leading up to that decision, staff and student absences continued to rise last week. He was hoping the three-day weekend would change things, but Monday night the system received many more requests for substitutes.
Then, they also didn’t have enough substitutes to fill the classrooms.
“When we don’t have subs in the classroom, you know you have to cover that,” Winstead said. “Other teachers are asked to cover that, and they’re all willing to do that but that gets old pretty quick.”
Winstead said it’s a little easier for Maryville City Schools to go virtual instead of canceling class districtwide. His district still has to ask for a waiver, but once approved they move all of the in-person resources to the younger grades, since it’s more difficult for younger students to learn online.
“You know, if we can consolidate the substitutes into our lower grades, you know, if we could consolidate our cafeteria staff into our lower grades … so, basically it’s our K through 7 we’re focused on keeping open.” Winstead said.
He said the older students are more comfortable with digital learning.
Now, the question is if teachers will feel better by Monday. After this week, both ACS and KCS only have a few inclement weather days – which are also used for sick days – left.
Sutton said ACS is looking into alternative options to continue instruction with students in the next few weeks if the illness percentage remains high.
For a full list of school closures, click here.