How are schools dealing with surveillance testing, substitute shortage?

Published: Dec. 4, 2020 at 7:22 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - While state officials Friday focused on the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on Vermonters, many schools are grappling with substitute shortages and keeping students in the classroom.

Schools were facing a substitute teacher shortage before the pandemic and now the need is even greater. So, the state is getting creative in finding solutions. “We’re very fortunate to do surveillance testing and it’s put a lot of people at ease,” said Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent William Bazyk.

His supervisory union staff took part in surveillance testing before Thanksgiving and again this past Tuesday. All results came back negative in November and Bazyk says they have not been told of any positives from this second round. The testing is optional for staff, but around 60% of the Battenkill Valley SU staff took part. “If they missed out it was because they have other obligations during the day, but I didn’t hear anybody talk about a violation of privacy,” said Bazyk.

Vermont’s Teacher Association president Don Tinney says surveillance testing has shown teachers and staff are practicing safe COVID guidelines. “One thing I have heard from a couple of members, is to see more testing every week so that they know exactly the condition of the entire district,” he said.

With teachers following the guidelines and staying home if they feel sick, schools are finding it even harder to find substitute teachers. Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French says a new task force is finding creative solutions to this problem including allowing school board members to sign up as subs. “School board members are prohibited by the law to be regular employees of school districts, but there is a waiver process where they can be employees. To date, we have approved 29 waivers for school board members to be substitute teachers,” French said.

One of those supervisory unions benefiting from this waiver is Bazyk’s. “Yeah! We just had our first one. School Board Chair Nicole Whalen of BVSU signed up. And so we’re going to try to get her in there and see how it goes. But she did ask if there was anything she could do to help during this crisis and we said if you’re available to sub,” said Bazyk.

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