Fayette County Public Schools teacher absences create concern amid omicron

Fayette County Board of Education.PNG
Posted at 11:20 AM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 21:50:26-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The spread of the omicron variant is compounding staffing issues for Fayette County Public Schools.

Students and staff have asked to stay with in-person learning despite an ongoing COVID-19 surge. The district has decided to do so; however, one thing teachers are concerned about is the number of teacher and paraprofessional absences.

Elementary school teacher Laura Hartke is a member of KY 120 United - AFT union, a group that advocates on behalf of teachers across Kentucky. She says that the past year has been tough due to nationwide teacher and sub shortages.

When adding another COVID-19 surge with more absences, Hartke wonders how much more stress the system can take.

"It's this balance. So, we all want to be in person. It's really difficult to teach online. So I guess where the balance comes in is where's the breaking point in the system? When can we no longer safely cover positions? When do we no longer have enough people to take care of our children, which is our first priority," said Hartke.

Hartke says it's a problem for teachers across Kentucky.

Fayette County Public School spokesperson Lisa Deffandall says that the district has worked to attract more substitutes to fill holes. But with their all-hands-on-deck approach, no classrooms have gone without an instructor. Administrators have also filled in.

The district reports this time of year without COVID there would be about 350 teacher absences a day. Out of 3,050 full-time teachers, 415 were absent Tuesday. The district has a total of roughly 9,000 full and part-time employees.

Here are the teacher absences since students returned from winter break:

  • January 4 - 342
  • January 5 - 393
  • January 10 - 451
  • January 11 - 415

Deffendall says the district felt comfortable with their decision to prioritize in-person learning with the current circumstances.

"Our goal is to maximize the amount of time our students have in person. We know that our students learn best through in-person learning. We promised our community that we would prioritize that. We have mechanisms in place to monitor data. We have our school chiefs who work with principals every day and just as we did in the fall when there were times that warranted, we moved to virtual learning in those limited circumstances, but those circumstances have not presented themselves," said Deffendall.

In addition to the mask mandate and test-to-stay safety measures, the district is hoping to release information on the latest recommendations from the state health department on Friday. Parents will also have the chance to hear from Superintendent Demetrus Liggins on Friday.