School & District Management

Staff Shortages Affect Students, Too. Here’s Where Schools Are Shutting Down

By Mark Lieberman — October 21, 2021 1 min read
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a WI-FI hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning on the first day of class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in the parking lot of the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. The bus is one of 20 hotspots throughout the city to help students have access to their online classes as part of the remote start to the school year due to COVID-19 pandemic.
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A few months into the third academic year in a row disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, at least several dozen school buildings in numerous states have had to shut down due to inadequate staffing.

The problem first surfaced last school year when some schools began reopening their doors following the spring 2020 shutdown. It’s intensified this year, as the vast majority of schools have restored full-time in-person instruction for most students.

The return to full brick-and-mortar operations for K-12 schools has coincided with massive upheaval in the nation’s labor market, as a surge of workers resign from their jobs and appear reluctant to take on new responsibilities without an assurance of a suitable work environment that includes better pay and benefits than they’ve previously been afforded.

For schools, that phenomenon has contributed to—and in some cases exacerbated—a shortage of workers who contribute vital functions to a smooth school day: bus drivers, cafeteria workers, instructional assistants, custodians, substitute teachers, and specialists who work with students with disabilities. Nearly half of school leaders and principals said in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey that they’re struggling to hire enough full-time teachers.

These issues directly affect students, no more so than when schools have to shut down unexpectedly. Teachers have to quickly pivot their instructional materials to the online space, or forgo lessons altogether amid the chaos. Students may lose out on school meals and the vital socialization that accompanies a traditional school day. Some schools have abandoned the remote learning infrastructure they developed during the early days of the pandemic, further complicating a rapid transition from in-person to remote operations.

Here’s a glance, collected from local media reports, at the circumstances that have led schools to shut down for reasons that aren’t strictly about COVID-19 cases in the building.

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