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Greene County Schools superintendent: Classes could be canceled because of staffing shortages

At least 20 staff members in the Greene County School District called in sick with coronavirus in the last month.

GREENE COUNTY, Iowa — This year is turning out to be harder than last year, according to Superintendent Tim Christensen with the Greene County School District.

He credited fewer substitute teachers available, along with the polarization of masks and vaccines, to the higher stress levels among district leaders and staff.

"I was very hopeful at the beginning of August, that things were kind of under control," said Christensen. "But as school started, more cases started to pop up. And you know, it's becoming more polarized."

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Iowa public schools were not allowed to implement mask mandates. Within the last week, they've been allowed to bring them back, according to a temporary federal court ruling.

Even so, Christensen said students and staff are getting sick with coronavirus. And it's taking a real toll on teachers.

"I think staff are really feeling the stress," said Christensen. "At the high school level, they're covering for each other during their planning periods because of lack of substitutes, and it's a challenge to find those substitutes, so people are stressed out."

Even with the state making it easier to become a substitute teacher in Iowa during the pandemic, Christensen said sub spots are going unfilled. 

He said the ideal candidate would be a retired teacher. But those individuals aren't opting to substitute teach for a variety of reasons, one of them is putting themselves at risk for coronavirus.

"I think when you look at education in general, it's getting harder and harder to find teachers," said Christensen. "Not as many teachers are people are going into the teaching profession. And I think that then translates into it's harder and harder to find substitutes. I think it's been getting worse each year."

As a way to incentivize substitute teachers, the Greene County School Board approved a pay increase of $120 a day to $135 a day. 

If staff continue to call in sick, Christensen warned the board, he might have to consider calling off class in the coming weeks.

"It's not safe for anybody," said Christensen. "If we can't properly supervise students and provide a safe environment for kids at school, it's just not safe."

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