COVID surge causing staffing problems at some school districts

A shortage of teachers and substitutes is making it hard to resume in-person learning
Posted at 6:12 PM, Dec 10, 2020

FREDONIA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — As COVID-19 continues to surge across WNY, it is making things very difficult for school districts that want to offer hybrid learning because infections/quarantines are making school staff unavailable for in-classroom duties.

"If we do have anyone in the audience who would love to 'sub' for us, we would love to have you, meet you, and interview you," said Interim Superintendent Colleen Taggerty for the Fredonia School District.

Fredonia students in grades 9 to 12 have returned to fully remote learning after a positive exposure forced some students and staff into quarantine. Superintendent Taggerty said she is trying to get replacements so she can resume in-classroom learning but a lack of teachers and substitutes is making it very challenging.

"If we can get the coverage we need, we will return to hybrid. If we can't, then we will continue 9-12 remote next week and through the winter break," added Taggerty.

Amherst Central Schools are facing a similar problem.

Superintendent Anthony Panella told parents in a message that Amherst schools will not go to hybrid learning on December 14, as was hoped, but will postpone it until January 4, 2021. The schools will remain fully remote during that time.

Panella said the increasing number of covid cases resulted in the district facing a "significant staffing challenge at this point."

"Before COVID we had a problem. We had a problem with less people going into teaching," said New York State United Teachers President (NYSUT) Andrew Pallota.

That problem is being amplified, explained the union president, because many teachers decided to retire during the pandemic with more scheduled to do so.

Pallota thinks it is important that people feel confident that school districts are doing everything they can to make the environment safe.

"At one point in 2019, we saw the enrollment in teaching colleges drop by 47%," added Peter Stuhmiller, president of the Kenmore Teacher's Association. "Clearly, the pandemic has put teachers in precarious positions," continued Stuhmiller.

The need for teachers is so great that students from Buffalo State College's School of Education are in big demand to fill the gap.

"A lot of our student-teachers are being hired on the spot, which is great news for us. But it is an indication that the shortages are pretty pronounced," explained Dr. Wendy Paterson, Dean of the School of Education.

Buffalo State College is now working with Hamburg Schools to allow more student-teachers into the middle school so they can get hands-on, in-classroom experience with students from that age group.