JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s not the fresh start in a new year that everyone was hoping for with the omicron variant of COVID-19 making its rounds through Duval County Public Schools.
As the pandemic continues to have an impact on school staffing, more and more employees are needing to recover from an infection or quarantine.
Starting Monday, the district is assigning administrators and specialists to fill the widening gap of teachers and substitutes.
And even with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortening the recommended isolation and quarantine time to five days, the district is still struggling to keep teachers in classrooms.
In a memo from Superintendent Diana Greene last week, administrators and specialists were told that starting Monday, they’d have to provide support through special assignments throughout the district. Greene added that she’d be filling needed positions herself.
“While this requirement may temporarily disrupt your schedules, your support is greatly appreciated,” Greene’s memo said. “It is my sincere hope that the number of covid-19 cases will decline by February, and we will be able to resume normal work schedules.”
The diminished staff has not gone unnoticed in the classroom.
News4JAX spoke to an elementary school teacher who asked to remain anonymous.
“Subs are so short,” the teacher said. “Nobody wants to go to work and put themselves at risk for this. Honestly, the pay that they get like they could do somewhere else and be less at risk.”
The teacher said she tested positive for COVID-19 over the winter break and had to miss the first week of the new semester. She said it’s the second year in a row that’s happened.
“I had so many plans for my students,” she said. “I’ve only been there a couple [of] weeks, and now the first week of school, which is like the most important getting back on track, I’m not going to be there.”
That teacher said, though she hadn’t yet gotten a booster shot, she’s really glad she got vaccinated. She said the effects of the virus were near-unbearable the first time she contracted it.
News4JAX asked DCPS for the number of teacher vacancies due to COVID-19 — and the number of available substitutes —but we did not receive that information by our deadline.
DCPS is currently requiring staff and visitors to wear face masks, stadium capacity at sporting events is cut down to 75%, and out-of-district travel is also temporarily suspended.
The full memo from Greene can be read below:
The number of COVID-19 cases has created a higher than usual number of employee absences in our schools. To increase support to our schools, we are assigning administrators and specialists to assist schools with covering absences. I have also been assigned to a team and will be providing support. Specialists have been assigned to work two of the next four weeks in an assigned school covering classes or offices. District administrators have been assigned to a regional COVID Admin Emergency Response Team. The attached chart shows your region assignment and date (all Mondays or all Fridays). The workday prior to your assigned dates, you will receive an email inviting you to review a shared list of schools needing support. After reviewing the needs, you should accept one of the listed opportunities by typing your name in the shared chart next to the accepted assignment. By accepting the assignment early, you will be able to report directly to the school on the assigned date. The responsibilities for the day may include covering a classroom or office in the absence of a staff member due to COVID-19. If for any reason you are not able to accept an assignment on your assigned date, you must find another administrator on your team to cover in your absence. Please plan by reserving your calendar on the appropriate days from January 10 – February 4. Note, there is no school Friday, January 14th or Monday, January 17th.
While every effort was made to ensure fairness with assignments, departmental needs may result in individual employee schedules varying slightly. District leadership will avoid scheduling meetings on all Mondays and Fridays from January 10 – February 4. While this requirement may temporarily disrupt your schedules, your support is greatly appreciated. It is my sincere hope that the number of COVID-19 cases will decline by February, and we will be able to resume normal work schedules.
Thank you in advance for doing your part to keep our schools and students safe and making student instruction a priority for our district.Dr. Diana Greene, Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools