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‘We have run out of teachers’ | Austin-East virtual learning waiver reveals school challenges

The waiver stated that Austin-East was granted to learn virtually through the week of Jan. 24 due to the significant impact of illness.
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 2:37 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The remote learning waiver that Austin-East Magnet High School submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education due to illness and staffing challenges highlights school officials’ challenges.

The waiver stated that Austin-East was granted to learn virtually through the week of Jan. 24 due to the significant impact of illness in the last few weeks. After closing from Jan. 18-21, the school system said that staff absences related to illness were projected to continue in high quantity, which has been a point of struggle in the last couple of weeks.

“With 20-30% of staff absent and low sub-fill rates, it creates a hardship on teachers and administration to provide class coverage, maintain effective sanitation protocols, and to provide quality and effective instruction,” the waiver stated.

At the time of the waiver filing, the projected staff absences from Jan. 24-28 were 67 in total staff, 20 total staff projected out, 17 unfilled vacancies with one to three substitutes projected to assist if not sick.

According to the filing, the high school averaged 19-25 staff absences a day with only one to three substitutes to fill in. Four regular education positions and two sped positions that require permanent coverage by staff and subs are also currently vacant. Due to the absences, the school said they covered as many as possible by combining multiple classes in the auditorium and gym, but they struggled to continue.

“We have run out of teachers who can cover classes,” the waiver reads. “Administrators and support staff are covering classes, managing cafeteria during lunch and handling discipline and support as needed.”

Outside of staff issues, the school has also faced significant student absences.

Out of 674 enrolled students, an average of 150 were reported absent daily. According to officials, those numbers were trending up.

“We are diligent about keeping accurate student attendance; however, with so many staff out, the possibility for error increases,” the waiver stated. “Just when we think that we might be recovering, additional staff and/or family members get sick impacting and extending dates of return.”

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