The average day in a K-12 school has little margin for error; educators have perfected the art of stretching resources. Yet the typical day rarely goes as planned. Staff absences are on the rise this year, and for each person who is out, others are asked to stretch themselves to make it work.
“We have staff who are consistently giving up prep periods to cover for absences, absorbing additional classes, and taking on higher caseloads,” shared one special education director who noted the extra strain staff are experiencing this year.
Research on school staff absences in the past has focused primarily on the impact on students, and the facts are clear that students suffer setbacks when facing chronic staff absences. These absences have been shown to be more prevalent in low income schools, a scary prospect when compounded with the other areas of disparate impact through the pandemic seen in reduced educational progress and increased mental health challenges in low income schools.
But a newer focus is emerging on the impact these absences are having on colleagues working in the school. This is an essential area to address before we reach a situation where the absence or resignation of some leads to the burnout of those who are asked to cover the gaps.
Absence rates among teachers have historically tracked high, at 5 percent relative to a 3 percent absence rate for the U.S. workforce and a 2.3 percent absence rate for other public sector workers. Throughout the pandemic, staff absences have spiked, at times leading schools to close or temporarily shift to remote learning because they cannot secure sufficient staff to cover the buildings.
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