Over the last two weeks, as students returned to school, districts experienced an unprecedented number of teachers and staff unable to remain in the classroom because of illness. Teachers have gone above and beyond to assist colleagues and take on extra students and classes just to maintain a level of in-person learning. They know how important it is to keep schools open. But with an overwhelming number of teachers out, substitutes nearly impossible to find and student attendance numbers dwindling, some schools have had no choice but to close buildings or even the entire district for extended periods. These closures disrupt their communities and create uncertainty that extends into the spring and early summer as districts shuffle calendars to make up the lost days.
While there has been an alarming increase in the number of school staff unable to work because of COVID-19, the problem is not new. In fact, Missouri schools have dealt with this issue in some form for nearly two years. Our current course of action is not sustainable.
This week I discussed these concerns as well as possible solutions with Commissioner Margie Vandeven.
The Missouri State Teachers Association advocates for the following as a path forward as we continue to navigate our way through this global pandemic:
When in-person is no longer viable, districts need to be prepared to close buildings, and perhaps entire districts, until there is enough healthy faculty and staff to provide a worthwhile learning experience. Missouri schools should be allotted additional AMI days to allow them to close when necessary without being penalized.
Districts must be given the flexibility to develop and utilize policies that need to be enacted to mitigate disease and maintain safe, in-person learning.
Suspend statewide testing. While parents, educators and the community rightfully worry about learning loss, additional testing will not help to alleviate this problem. All available class time must be allocated to student learning.
It is time to trust Missouri teachers. They know what needs to be done to help their students learn. Give them the time to do what they do best – teach. Education professionals need time to plan and prepare. We ask districts to eliminate additional meetings or professional learning days and instead, give educators back that valuable time so they can focus on their curriculum and their students.
We need leadership in this phase of the pandemic if Missouri is to maintain a strong system of public education that serves students, parents, and communities. The importance of flexibility and grace cannot be overstated to ensure student learning and the health of communities. Policy makers, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must step up and lead on these issues. School districts and employees are looking for direction and support.
Missouri State Teachers Association