Late this week there was an acceleration of disruptions across the country beyond the Northeast and Midwest regions that had seen the bulk of issues...
Week of 12/6: Moving Past "Getting By"
We saw a smaller increase in disruptions this week versus the November period. Some districts are closing for days in advance of Christmas. We present maps comparing the scope of the two big disruption spikes of the year - the mid-August to mid-September period versus November - and note trends around mask-optional districts, Superintendent notes about student behavior, and retention bonuses.
1. The cumulative number of districts affected by closures this year went from 916 to 948 (+32) while cumulative school closures went from 9,313 to 9,606 (+293). Below is a chart of school closures by start-week for this current academic year:
2. During the August-September period school disruptions were driven by Covid 19 cases and quarantine policies and tended to be individual schools rather than district-wide, and for longer periods. The closures in November had a high percentage of mental-health closures that were scheduled in advance, with a heavy mix of last second closures that had staffing shortages as the stated reason. Closures in November were more likely to be entire districts. Below we offer a breakdown of closures for the two periods:
- The number of Top 500 districts that are mask-optional increased to 177 from 169 last week. On October 15th, 101 of the Top 500 districts were mask-optional. The number of Top 200 mask optional districts increased from 76 to 83, up from a low of 50 on October 1st.
- The Governor of New Mexico issued an order requiring Covid 19 booster shots that covers school employees in the state.
- Early release days have been a common feature of K-12 academic calendars for years, and as such it is difficult for us to track the exact number of incremental days we are seeing, but it is increasing. The Montgomery County, MD Board of Education added multiple early release days to the schedule, plus some full day closures. Harrisonburg City Schools, VA has been shortening the school day by an hour since October and is deciding whether to continue the practice. Wayne-Westland, MI schools under "District News" reports a half-day virtual session by saying " We will ''go virtual' on Wednesday morning to see how well all students and staff can shift to online learning and teaching right after being face to face."
- We rarely see Superintendents letters talk directly about student behavior but this note from Shrewsbury, MA does so. "We are experiencing a variety of issues stemming from the disruptions related to this long-lasting pandemic and other societal problems. A number of students are demonstrating difficulty with reacclimating to a more typical school environment and experiencing increased levels of social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health concerns," the Superintendent reports.
- This note out of Appleton Village, ME offers another window into school operations. "One final request," it reads, "Our nurses have taken on an incredible amount of extra work and responsibility . . . . Our nurses have been subjected to angry words from parents, guardians and in some cases, students! Please practice kindness whenever you have a chance to speak to one of the nurses. They are all dedicated, kind, thoughtful professionals who are doing their best in a difficult situation."
- Aiken County, SC schools is considering adopting a modified calendar that would shorten summer break and have two week breaks interspersed throughout the year. Benefits cited include reducing burnout, reducing the "summer slide" and extra academic and enrichment opportunities.
- We continue to see incentive payments across the landscape. Caddo Parish Public Schools, LA will disburse an incremental $2.500 per staffer over the academic year. Gwinnett County, GA will pay $1,000 per employee. Randolph, NC school district will pay between $2,500 and $5,000 per staffer in "Premium Pay." Hamtramck, MI schools are offering $100 bonuses to substitutes who work ten straight days and $7,000 signing bonuses for new teachers. This report out of Twin Falls, ID describes $1,500 bonuses for paraeducators. Out of Texas Arlington ISD approved a $500 bonus for all district employees, Houston ISD doubled hourly rates for teachers providing academic tutorials, Ysleta ISD raised their day rate for substitute teachers and nurses, and Dallas ISD announced a series of retention bonuses for 2022/23 to be paid for out of ESSER funds.
This message from Portland, MI offers insight into staffing shortages and the role substitutes play in keeping schools operating. "Our subs are not just used to cover absent teachers but we also use them to provide coverage when a teacher needs to develop plans and learn strategies to support individual students and groups of students," reads the letter. "Without a sub pool, we are only 'getting by' and that isn’t going to work for our community."