PHOENIX — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Valley teachers are feeling the strain more than ever. Schools are scrambling to find substitutes when teachers stay home due to illness or exposure.
"We're probably going to have more staffing issues. More kids out, more teachers out... What are we going to do?"
Ralph Quintana is a teacher at Dysart High School and the president of the Arizona Federation of Teachers.
"On any given day at the high school area, we could be missing 5 to 8 teachers a day or staff members," he said.
Education staffing company Educational Services Inc. says so far this week, they've seen a 10 to 20% increase in absences, depending on the district. At the same time, fewer substitutes are working because they are either sick or afraid to take the job and get sick.
That means the teachers that can work have to step in.
"Your prep period, your planning period, basically you're giving that up to cover someone's class. That work still needs to be done. So either you're coming earlier, you're staying later or you're doing that work for your lunch," said Quintana.
Quintana said the lack of staffing impacts students as well.
"They have a different teacher in there all day long... Throughout everything trying to figure out what's going on and get instruction done."
Beth Lewis is a third-grade teacher in Tempe and the director for the education advocacy group Save Our Schools.
"A lot of my colleagues are reporting that like a fifth of the teachers are out with cases of exposures. And I'm seeing that as well." she said. "We're pulling all of our aids, and interventionists, our assistant principals if you have one, your specialists teachers. Just trying to have enough bodies in the room just keep kids safe and learning."
Lewis said they're doing their best to stay open, but she's worried.
According to a spokesperson from the Tempe Elementary School District, about 6% of staff were absent when they returned from break:
"The fill rate for certified positions that required a substitute was 60% for the past 3 days. There are several plans in place when there is not a substitute teacher. Each site in our district has a unique approach based on a number of factors including student enrollment and the number of certified staff on campus. Primarily we cover classrooms by having another certified staff member cover for the classroom vacancy. If the situation warrants, we can also utilize certified district support staff and certified site based support staff to assist when needed."
Dysart School District sent ABC15 this statement regarding staffing issues:
"As has been a nationwide trend among businesses for the last year and a half, Dysart continues to see higher than normal staff absences due to a variety of reasons. Dysart staff have been amazing as we have collaborated with them to help fill each need we have and ensure that all students are served every day."