Almost all Kentucky schools are back to in-person instruction.
They have been granted a total of 10 NTI days (nontraditional instruction) to spread across the entire school year by the legislature. This means that they are having to carefully consider when to use them.
So far, 23 school districts have had to close because of COVID-19, according to reporting from the Courier Journal.
And while student infection and quarantine are a part of the issue, the bigger threat comes from school personnel being out.
“The number one driver of the closures we have seen of in-person learning or paused in-person learning so far has been staff shortages, and the biggest driver of that is the quarantine rules such as they are,” said Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy at Kentucky School Boards Association.
The issue affects teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, food and custodial staff.
While numbers vary based on the district, there have to be a certain number of adults in a building for a school to function.
The solution to the issue may seem simple. Hire more people to work in school; however, the process of getting cleared to work with children is complicated.
Teachers need special certifications and need to meet certain education requirements. Bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license, which includes a state test at a time when DMV appointments are difficult to get. And all school staff need to be thoroughly background checked and fingerprinted.
The places offering those services are limited in general. It’s been made worse by the pandemic.
Even those who have been cleared to work in schools in the past face challenges.
“You know right now, there are some constraints around retired teachers, like how much they can get paid, how much time they can work,” said Jim Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.
Loosening some of these restraints would go a long way in lessening the strain currently placed on staff, Flynn said.