Staff scramble to keep school open amid COVID-19 surge

Parkway Board of Education will revisit issue by Jan. 19


Brinda Ambal

Spending their seventh hour in the cafeteria Jan. 6, juniors Matthew Feng, Sangarshan Kumar, Michael Feng, Govind Menon, Om Shinde, Samarth Samal and Bennett Christofferson join a Zoom with their teacher to get help with their assigned work. Their teacher assigned a packet with lecture notes, guided problems and self-check problems and opened a Zoom room during class hours to ensure students were supported. “For some people, school is the only place they feel safe. On the other hand, we’re also in the biggest COVID-19 spike [of cases] right now. Both sides have ups and downs,” Samal said. “I personally am fine with staying in school as long as it doesn’t interfere with my learning too much because I’m vaccinated and I wear my mask properly. If I can cover the content by myself with my teacher available on Zoom, I’m flexible with any option.”

In the cafeteria during fifth hour Jan. 6, Principal Dr. Mitchell taught three classes simultaneously. Academic Support teachers left their classrooms to deliver lessons, substitutes rushed from class to class during passing period and teachers sacrificed plan time to cover for colleagues.

The data is red. Pandemic markers are all at record highs, not even counting for the cases confirmed through the new at-home tests. Death rates, however, largely remain the same. As such, despite facing staffing shortages and student absences, school remains open in-person for now.

“The goal of our school district, and the goal of this school, will be to have students here. There are days in which we don’t have enough substitutes to cover the teachers. It’s not ideal, but we feel like still having experiences with the majority of your teachers and having one or two [classes] in this situation [without a substitute], especially now when we’re doing a lot of review finals and it’s not new material, is not the best, but it’s better than than the other options,” Mitchell said.

One way school is able to remain open despite teacher absences and substitute shortages is other staff stepping in to deliver lesson plans.

“If I’m subbing I’m not able to help anybody else during that time.You’re not going to actually be able to do your own job if you’re in another classroom; it’s stressful on my end because I can’t help the kids that I would normally help,” English Academic Support Center interventionist Kristen Witt said. “I do a lot of one on one work [with students] as far as how to write papers and make sure that their editing skills are on it and they’re understanding the stories they’re reading for class. It’s causing everybody stress because students are unable to get the help that they need.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), schools should take every possible measure to support in-person learning because it protects equitable access to health and education.

“I don’t see a complete solution until COVID-19 goes away, but [it’s] not just going to go away overnight. We just have to ride it out and hope for the best,” Witt said. “Teachers are doing everything they can to make sure that school is still here for the kids, still up and running and functioning. It’s really a community effort on that front.”

At the Board of Education Special Meeting Jan. 7, members carried a motion “to maintain the District’s current pandemic response plan related to students until such time as the Administration can review data related to student illness and health and safety recommendations, to be reviewed and considered by the Board of Education no later than its regular meeting on January 19, 2022.” In the meantime, staff are trying to hang on.

It’s causing everybody stress because students are unable to get the help that they need. Teachers are doing everything they can to make sure that school is still here for the kids, still up and running and functioning.

— Kristen Witt, interventionist

“We’re trying to do as best we can. The elementary thing is the handwashing. And obviously, we still enforce the masks. We’re trying to provide an environment as safe as possible. Let’s be honest, you’re at lunchtime, you’re not going to be wearing your mask, but you’re going to be three feet [apart]. [If] you go to a sporting event, we do the same thing. We’re not going to put everybody in a bubble, but you are required to do some things to try to make sure that everybody’s safe,” Mitchell said.

While Parkway is upholding these measures, teacher absences are changing the content students are learning and final exams.

“My Chemistry teacher is quarantined because she has COVID-19. This whole week, we aren’t going to be able to really prepare with her and understand what’s going to be on the final with the worksheets and lessons she had planned,” senior Caroline Bergh said. “Instead, we’ve just been doing a packet. The packet isn’t the most fun thing to do, it’s really not, but I think she understands that. If she were here, we’d probably be learning a little more and we’d have a normal final but we can’t do that right now, so we’re just going to have to really make it work.”

The school continues fighting to keep classrooms open, relying on cooperation from staff and students alike.

“The safer you are at home, the safer we can be here. I’m not going to tell you what’s safe. I’m not telling people what to do, how to act or how to live their lives. But while we’re here, we’re just trying to do things that are safe and keep students safe,” Mitchell said. “It’s been kind of a crazy week back but when we had three classes in here, the kids were great. They understand.”