MIAMI – South Florida’s school districts are finding ways to cover staffing shortages amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
In Miami-Dade County, 2,110 instructional personnel, including counselors, were out Monday. That’s compared to 1,333 on the first day back in 2021.
On Tuesday, district officials said 1,700 instructional staff members called out sick, compared to 700 last year.
Dozens of school bus drivers also called out this week in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, causing some delays with transportation.
Miami-Dade’s student attendance was also at 82.4% on Monday, compared to 88.8% on the return date last January.
Student attendance on Tuesday was up to 86.8%.
In Broward, about 24,700 students were absent Tuesday after 41,700 were out Monday, the school district said.
Broward said 1,644 teachers called out sick Monday and there was a 31.4% fill rate with substitutes. On Tuesday, 1,740 teachers called out sick and there was a 35% fill rate with substitutes.
Like in Broward, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said they have deployed personnel who have educational certification, like support staff, coaches, supervisors and administrators, to fill in the shoes of absent teachers.
“Principals are being able to bring in substitute teachers for the day. When they cannot, that’s when we then deploy the supplemental individuals into the classroom,” he said.
Carvalho said 70 employees have been deployed in Miami-Dade so far. He himself taught an environmental science class Tuesday at Miami Jackson Senior High where he began his teaching career 31 years ago.
“From yesterday to today, we saw a significant decline in the number of teacher absences,” Carvalho said. “We believe that some teachers were out with COVID, others were out because they needed to supervise their children who may have been impacted by COVID themselves. I think that leading to the end of this week, we will continue to see a decline in absences, but we have contingency plans in place to mitigate against this phenomenon should there be a need to do so.”
The superintendent said every student is receiving instruction and is being properly supervised, regardless of whether their regular teacher is in the classroom.
He said he’s hopeful that a decline in the number of absences will continue.
“I do believe that the vast majority of the individuals who are out are either diagnosed with COVID, particularly omicron, or they have a relative with whom they have contact with that was diagnosed,” Carvalho said.
Because of new state laws, districts are limited in what they can do when it comes to COVID safety protocols, like masking.
Students cannot be forced to wear them.
In Miami-Dade, all adults entering public school facilities are currently mandated to wear masks, while only vendors and visitors are required to wear face coverings at Broward County schools.
Transportation has also been a problem in both school districts.
In Miami-Dade, 90 bus drivers called out sick Monday. In Broward, 122 drivers called out sick Monday and 96 routes were double-routed. On Tuesday, 151 Broward bus drivers called out sick and 103 routes were doubled-routed.
The federal government is now stepping in, allowing states to waive some of the commercial driver’s license requirements in order to attract new drivers and alleviate the shortage.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education announced it is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components.
All other requirements of the written and road test will not change.
“Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best. And American Rescue Plan funds can be used to hire these critical staff, including offering increased compensation or other incentives to recruit and retain staff,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.