York County district leaders say they don’t have dates yet for most middle and high school students to start coming to school in person.
Some sixth graders whose families opted for hybrid learning set foot in school buildings Monday. The district had planned to bring back ninth graders too, but the county has a shortage of staff who can work in person.
There were 45 ninth-grade teachers aren’t available to work in-person as of Friday afternoon, according to a presentation Monday by district leaders to the School Board.
“There are multiple data points that we look at. Obviously staffing is an important one," said Superintendent Victor Shandor. “Health metrics are an important one, but you have to be able to have staff available. And it’s not just to have your staff in schools, you have to have substitutes.”
Since the first students started returning late September, the district has reported 16 COVID-19 cases in buildings.
The district rolled out a refreshed case dashboard Monday, which will be updated roughly daily and breaks down the number of active and positive cases by school. There are four active COVID-19 cases across the district.
Surveys show that families and staff are more interested in virtual learning now than they were in the summer.
A presentation to the board showed that the percentage of families preferring remote learning increased between surveys in July and October. The number of families who preferred daily in-person and hybrid learning decreased as well. The number of families who said they were “very uncomfortable” with in-person learning increased significantly.
Among staff, almost 29% of staff who responded to a survey said they were very uncomfortable with reopening, up from 13% in June. The percentage who said they were very or somewhat comfortable dropped from about 57% to just under 40%. About 44% of staff said they preferred remote learning over other options.
“There are many many reasons," said Chief Human Resources Officer Tony Vladu. "There are individual cases of folks with legitimate medical issues. I think we can relate with folks in our own lives.”
The main challenge the district cites in bringing back more middle and high school students is not COVID-19 but staffing, particularly among substitutes.
York isn’t alone in facing a crunch. Hampton, which started bringing back pre-K and kindergarten students along with specialized student groups last week, abruptly reversed course on a larger return plan due to medical accommodations.
About 336 employees in York have requested some kind of COVID-19 accommodation. Most of those are telework requests that will expire when the students they’re responsible for return to in-person instruction.
Then, staff are supposed to apply for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, which Congress passed this summer. About 91 staff members have approved ADA accommodations and 37 have FFCRA leave.
The ADA accommodations require medical documentation and an extensive process, Vladu explained. They may not wind up being approved to work from home either; accommodations to make in-person work safer like additional cleaning and more plastic barriers could be an option.
The shortage of substitutes also makes planning difficult. During the last week of October, the district had 177 teacher absences at the elementary level, but substitutes were able to cover only 130. More of the middle and high school absences were able to be covered.
“This is a call to all folks interested to apply," Vladu said during the meeting. "We want you, we need you, please apply.”
Matt Jones, 757-247-4729, email@example.com
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