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Teacher shortages — made worse by COVID-19 — shutter schools across U.S.

Helping students struggling because of COVID
How parents can help students struggling because of COVID 10:22

Classes are canceled for thousands of students across the U.S. as a teacher shortage exacerbated by COVID-19 takes a toll. 

Public schools have for years contended with a shortage of educators. But the pandemic has made the problem more acute, as the stress of teaching during the coronavirus has spurred many in the profession to resign or retire. Indeed, Americans have been quitting jobs in record numbers, and educators are no exception — 30,000 public school teachers gave notice in September alone, according to the Labor Department. 

Some point to a lack of staff for the decision to close schools; others say overworked educators and students are sorely in need of some down time after a year of upheaval. Staffing shortages in Colorado schools had three public schools in Denver switching to remote-learning in recent days, while another three districts in the metro area canceled classes altogether on November 12 because they were unable to find enough substitute teachers

"We are doing everything in our power to keep our schools open and to maximize in-person learning opportunities for our students. At the same time, we are facing a critical staffing shortage, like districts across the country, that impacts our ability to safely operate our schools," the Denver Public School District told CBS4.

Denver's George Washington High School switched to online learning on November 10 and may continue through November 19, according to a letter to parents. The school's principal cited faculty absences due to factors including COVID-19 isolation or quarantine. But since the pivot to remote learning stems from an inability to cover teacher absences and not an outbreak of COVID-19, after-school activities like athletic practices and theater performances can continue, she said.

An outbreak of COVID-19 is the reason a middle school in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, is closed for two weeks. The number of positive cases at the school doubled to about 40 in a matter of days, according to local news station WPXI. The middle school's roughly 2,700 students are back to remote learning, with extracurricular activities also halted through November 22. 

Greensburg Salem Middle School families; The Pennsylvania Department of Health has deemed recent increases in positive...

Posted by Greensburg Salem School District on Tuesday, November 9, 2021

An increase in COVID-19 cases also caused an elementary school in Boston to close in-person learning for 10 days as of Wednesday, with its 900 pupils learning from home until November 22, Katie Grassa, Curley K-8's principal, told families in a letter posted online. 

A Michigan school district is reopening on November 16 after shutting down for a week due to circumstances including COVID-19 and other illnesses. The district doesn't have the "connectivity," parental consent or "ability to transition back-and-forth from in-person to virtual learning," it told families on Tuesday.

Time Out

Thousands of students in Washington State were not in class on Friday after more than 600 Seattle public school teachers requested a substitute for the day. 

"The number of leave requests on a Friday after a federal holiday [Thursday] is indicative of the fatigue our staff and students are experiencing in these months of the return to classroom," city school officials told the Seattle Times. "The four-day weekend may offer physical, mental and emotional restoration."

The same decision was made by the nearby Bellevue school district, which cited "staffing shortages, anticipated inclement weather and COVID-19 restrictions" in announcing that schools would close Friday.

Baltimore schools work to refine classroom coronavirus testing program 07:02

In an effort to avoid burnout, a school district in Lansing, Michigan, is giving its roughly 400 teachers and staff an extra two days off on November 22 and November 23 during Thanksgiving week. 

"We realize our staff has been presented with an overwhelming amount of responsibility this school year amid the ongoing pandemic," Lansing USD 469 Superintendent Dan Wessel said Tuesday in a statement. "We feel it is important to recognize the stress they have been put under the feel the time off will allow them time to rest, recharge and come back ready to tackle the weeks leading up to winter break."

That idea didn't play as well elsewhere in the country. 

San Diego Unified School Districts had offered students Friday off as a mental health day, but backed off after parents complained they didn't have time to figure out child care. SDUSD Board President Richard Barrera acknowledged that staff shortages factored into the initial idea, as many teachers were expected to take the day off but with not enough substitute teachers to fill in the gaps, according to CBS8.

In a differing vein in Chicago, public schools were closed Friday so that students could get the COVID-19 vaccine

The challenges of reopening school buildings during a pandemic has also come with classroom substitutes, school nurses and bus drivers in short supply. Supply-chain disruptions are also an issue, leading some schools to curtail lunchtime food options.

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