On the first Monday of the new year, after an extended winter break, Minneapolis reported that 285 teachers were absent.
The Minneapolis Public Schools system does not specifically track COVID-19 as a reason for teachers to take an absence, but 285 out of around 3,500 teachers cited illness, family illness, and personal leave as their reason for missing the first day back.
According to Superintendent Ed Graff, the district is averaging between 200 to 300 teacher absences every day.
Graff stated in a virtual press conference Monday that these absences are “definitely a strain and stressor on the system,” according to Fox 9. He said the district has tried to take measures to counteract these absences, such as increasing substitute pay by 20% and adding full-time subs to schools with higher absence rates.
The district also sent a letter to parents Jan. 2 urging them to keep their kids home if they experience symptoms.
The president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Greta Callahan, told KARE 11 that the scene in Minneapolis Public Schools is “a disaster.”
“It’s utter chaos. It’s been all year long,” she said, adding that there are “multiple staff out at every single site.” Full-time teachers are often forced to fill in for their absent colleagues.
This along with the sub shortage has created a system where a “classroom has six or seven teachers filling in to sub for them in one day and our students are not having prepared lessons,” Callahan stated.
Experts are now saying that cloth masks do not prevent the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, recommending the use of KN95 masks instead. Callahan said that the teachers union has been asking for these masks, but the district “doesn’t have the infrastructure in place that we have been fighting for since the beginning.”
Despite the falling teacher attendance rate, the school district placed a teacher on leave just last May for wearing a Trump mask. The issue of attendance extends to students as well. In recent years, enrollment in Minneapolis Public Schools has dropped significantly, causing a loss of millions of dollars each year.
Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.