‘It feels like we’re drowning:’ CMS staff say they’re overwhelmed due to staff shortages, COVID-19 related absences

From December 27 to January 2, CMS is reporting 119 staff have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and 135 are quarantined.
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 5:56 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - COVID-19 cases and staff shortages are leading to extra responsibilities for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff.

From December 27 to January 2, CMS is reporting 38 students and 119 staff have recently tested positive.

The same data shows 135 staff members and 58 students are quarantined.


On an average day, Albemarle Road Middle School social studies teacher Trevor Bourque says two teachers may be absent, but with the Omicron variant running rampant, absences have tripled.

“Ever since especially this Omicron variant’s been going around, this week alone we’ve had at least fourteen staff members out, teachers, assistant principals, and just staff members in general,” Bourque said.

Bourque says he and other teachers are having to cover extra classes on top of planning periods and other responsibilities.

“I’m getting like not only two or three extra kids in my class, I’m getting like 7,8, and 9 other kids. I don’t have enough desks or chairs,” he said.

Other teachers told WBTV their daily coverage reports show anywhere from 12 to nearly 40 teachers absent this week.

A state law signed by Governor Cooper in August limits remote learning to classes, grade levels, and schools only if there’s insufficient staff or high student quarantines, but with rising COVID-19 cases, CMS Board of Education Chair Elyse Dashew say they’re prepared to shift if circumstances warrant it.

“We have not yet hit that point of having a whole school have to go to remote, but we’re braced for it to happen it could happen,” Dashew said.

Related: ‘I think they need to revisit:’ Teachers urge lawmakers to reconsider remote learning stipulations amid COVID-19 surge

Under state law, school boards have the authority to move a classroom, grade level, wing of a school, or entire school to remote learning. Dashew says this is situational for each school and there is not a set formula.

Officials with the school district also said they will consider a transition to remote learning on a class-by-class, grade-by-grade, and school-by-school basis and will do so if and when COVID-19 conditions require us that action.

“The decision isn’t made at the school level, but the threshold depends upon the situation at the school,” she said. “For example, if you had a school where four-fifths of their third-grade teachers were out then you might have to send the third grade to remote, or at one school 10-percent might be devastating and at another school, 10-percent might be something that you could handle”

Dashew says CMS did quarantine two extensions or special needs classrooms this week.

Since the start of the school year, CMS has reported pre-school and extensions classes have had more difficulty enforcing mask-wearing, thus leading to more quarantines.

COVID-19 cases and quarantines are also affecting the district’s transportation department.

“Sometimes a lot of the buses are late as well because they’re trying to find other bus drivers because they’re sick and out as well,” Bourque said.

Related: CMS says transportation issues expected for several days; talks remote learning possibilities

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say they expect transportation issues and delays in the first week back for students after winter break.

Officials say they have let principals know and will communicate with families that they anticipate some challenges with transportation for the next several days. CMS officials say they believe this will be similar to the beginning of school and they will implement procedures to mitigate delays and other transportation challenges.

CMS staff from other offices are filling in gaps, but Dashew says the absences outnumber the available staff.

“We definitely have more absences than substitutes, central office staff and learning community staff are fanning out into schools to support but there aren’t enough of them either. I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s working so hard,” she said.

On top of COVID-19 related absences, CMS is reporting 705 teachers have left the district from August 1 to December 8, 2021, compared to 405 during the same time frame in 2020.

A total of 1,577 employees have left the district from August 1 to December 8, 2021, compared to 1,053 during the same time frame in 2020. A survey reports employees left for various reasons including family responsibilities, career change, family relocation, and job dissatisfaction.

“It feels like we’re drowning... that would be a good description of it... and like no one is coming to help,” Bourque said.

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