Lack of substitute teachers cited as concern with staff quarantines

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Students at North Attleborough High School eat lunch outdoors, one of the many changes made to the school day. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Quarantines of staff due to COVID-19 are being monitored to ensure there are enough to continue to offer in-person classes.

According to a letter sent on Dec. 18, student and staff attendance have been closely monitored since school re-opened on Sept. 16. Information posted to the school web site shows the total in-school exposure at 19 cases as of Dec. 28. Because of this, 198 students and staff have been quarantined. Outside school, there have been 56 exposures among students and staff, with 393 quarantined.

Town-wide, there have been a total of 1,327 COVID-19 cases, with 114 infectious as of Dec. 28.

The letter states that should those staff in quarantine continue to rise, there may not be enough to properly run in-person learning and certain schools would be placed into full remote learning.

Superintendent Scott Holcomb said that as of now, there are enough teachers available, but that personnel are stretched thin. No one school is more at risk of closure, but he said the smaller schools could be hard hit if more personnel need to go into quarantine. Holcomb said the three holidays at this time of year—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s—all have potential to increase COVID cases due to large family gatherings. Regular meetings are conducted with School Nurse Coordinator Melissa Badger.

We’ll have to see how it goes when we go back to school,” said Holcomb.

If a school is closed, the length of time would depend on the need, and could go from one day to an extended period if in-person learning cannot be safely supervised. Notifications would go out through the Blackboard Connect notification system to all families that would be impacted.

A related issue is the lack of substitute coverage in the district. Holcomb said that bringing in enough substitute teachers has been an issue for some time, due in part to the daily pay of $90-$110 statewide. He said that substitutes don’t just watch the students, but need to prepare for the daily lessons to ensure students get the education they need.

This requires them to be on their mark so they [the students] can access the learning,” said Holcomb.

This problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic. For several weeks, those on unemployment received a $600 bonus, which led some people to continue this as opposed to going back to work, due to the risk of infection. Holcomb said that many in the substitute teacher role are seniors in the at-risk age range for COVID.

We saw a decrease in the amount of available substitutes this year just because the COVID virus is around,” said Holcomb.

North Attleborough is currently operating its schools through a hybrid method. Students are divided into two cohorts, with one in school Monday and Tuesday and the second on Thursday and Friday. When not in school, learning for the cohorts is conducted remotely.

We are striving to creatively provide classroom coverage at all of our school buildings in order to keep schools open for students,” the letter states.

North Attleborough provides teachers for those learning remotely, giving those students their own classroom. This is different from schools that have teachers instructing students in the classroom and those learning from home.

Those interested in serving as a substitute teacher in North Attleborough Schools should contact the Human Resources office at 508-643-2175.