COVID-19 could cause greater Missouri teacher and bus driver shortages this fall

Reopening The Ozarks

(Missourinet)– Many Missouri K-12 schools have had a persistent shortage of full-time teachers, substitute teachers and bus drivers. Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, tells Missourinet the COVID-19 outbreak could cause an even greater shortage this upcoming school year.

She expects the need for substitute bus drivers in rural Missouri school districts to run especially deep. To address social distancing health guidelines, more buses and drivers could be required to transport kids.

“This is huge for our rural districts because, of course, buses are how the children get to school. And, if you have to double the number of buses, it’s going to be a problem,” she says. “If the virus continues to spread, we may have drivers that can’t drive because they’ve tested positive and they’re quarantined or because they have someone at home they have to care for – same thing with substitute teachers.”

Missouri has 555 public school districts and charter schools. The changes could be a financial headache for many districts, especially the ones already facing money problems.

“There really are some creative folks out there in schools, working on staggered arrival times, and alternate day attendance and alternate hour attendance,” says Hopkins. “Some come in here, go for these four hours, some they take them home and pick up another route, etc. All we’re talking about here is not just the logistics. The finances of it are incredible.”

Some Missouri parents might be ready for their kids to return to the classroom this fall, but whether teachers are comfortable returning during the COVID-19 pandemic could be a different story for some. Many schools have been surveying their parents and staff about their preferences on returning to school, learning remotely, or something in between for the upcoming school year.

“If my full-time job is a teacher and I’m too leery to come, I suspect someone who’s a substitute, who may be in multiple rooms with multiple children is going to be even maybe less excited about coming to work with students,” says Hopkins.

The going pay rate for teachers and bus drivers could factor into the overall shortage, along Missouri’s historically low unemployment rate. Pay varies from district to district. For substitute bus drivers, Hopkins says the pay could be a daily rate, based on the number of trips made, etc.

For substitute teachers, 60 hours of college and a good background check are required. For substitute bus drivers, a commercial driver’s license and good background check are required.

“So it’s not like you can say ‘I’ll drive,’” says Hopkins.

The Missouri Departments of Health and Senior Services and Elementary and Secondary Education have rolled out answers to frequently asked health questions about schools reopening next month. They include details about screening, assigned seating, desk placement, requiring hand washing before and after students move from one space to another and loading buses appropriately. The guidance urges schools to keep kids in the same group of students and adults throughout the day, including during P.E., recess, lunch and music classes.

In May, representatives from DHSS and DESE worked with the Missouri School Boards’ Association to publish the “Pandemic Recovery Consideration: Re-Entry and Reopening of Schools”, a 110-page guide with more thorough information to help school leaders develop plans for returning to onsite teaching and learning.

Meanwhile, the Missouri State High School Activities Association has outlined its recommendations to member schools for their return to activities. In the eight-page guidelines, if says if a district is only offering online learning with no face to face education, either temporarily or for the semester/year, the district cannot offer activities during that period. If a participant or coach tests positive for COVID-19, all participants who had direct contact should be excluded from play for 14 days. The association also urges urge schools to develop live streaming of events to reduce crowd size.

High school sports are still on schedule to begin with practices starting August 10 and competition beginning August 28.

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