Rising COVID-19 cases create staffing problems for schools


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After spending months planning and thousands adapting to the pandemic, school districts in West Michigan face yet another obstacle to maintain in-person learning: staffing shortages due to rising COVID-19 cases outside the classroom.

“We are not seeing transmission of COVID happening in schools, we’re just seeing that we all live in the community so we’re all coming into contact with these rising COVID cases,” Forest Hills Public Schools Superintendent Dan Behm told News 8 Tuesday. “It’s causing students and staff members to have to stay home, or if they come into close contact they have to quarantine and that’s really the biggest thing.”

Behm said Forest Hills Northern High School, which is east of Grand Rapids, had to shift to virtual learning for the next week because 10 teachers, nine of whom are in quarantine, were absent.

Oakridge High School in Muskegon noted the same struggle in a post to Facebook.

“We still have not been able to find enough substitute teachers to fill absences for employees in isolation or quarantine…” the post read, noting the students should return to their hybrid model Thursday.

Kelloggsville Public Schools confirmed staffing issues played a role in moving the entire district to remote learning through Thanksgiving week.

At Holland Public Schools, the decision to take the entire holiday week off also stemmed from staffing.

Each of those districts are represented in a letter signed by 46 superintendents across Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties last month. At the time, the superintendents noted the collective mitigation effort necessary to avoid a “worst-case scenario” for schools — the scenario that several are facing just three weeks later.

“We believe, instructionally, that in-person instruction is the best way to go for all sorts of reasons, but if this pandemic continues to trend in its current direction, we may not have options available to us,” Kent Intermediate School District Ron Caniff told News 8.

When cases on the ISD’s COVID-19 dashboard are compared to the countywide spike currently happening, it’s evident mitigation efforts are working in schools. It’s what families are doing the other hours of the day that is impacting schools’ ability to remain effective.

“No one wants to go back to where we were in the spring, but at the end of the day these numbers are trending in the wrong direction,” Caniff added.

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