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Substitute shortage led to no school for many Friday

No Rogue Valley schools called a day off because of shortages — unlike other jurisdictions — but indicated problems as a result of it

For many K-12 students in Rogue Valley, Friday was just another school day — in contrast to many school districts throughout Oregon and in other parts of the country that had to close their doors due to staffing and substitute shortages.

Yet, while the Medford School District had regular instruction the day after Veterans Day, all of its schools were impacted by the shortage.

“We worked as a team and dispatched administers and nonschool-based staff districtwide to schools to fill in,” Leah Thompson, a Medford School District communications specialist, wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune Monday. “This allowed students to attend school, so parents and students would not have to bear the burden of an unexpected cancellation.”

The district had 30 office staff, including Superintendent Bret Champion, “out at schools and lending a hand” to conduct school operations, Thompson said.

Thompson shared the district’s strategy after the Mail Tribune learned via social media Friday that North Medford High School students were being sent to the auditorium when no teachers or substitutes were available.

The school, however, “made great use of the time” by sharing several presentations on career/college readiness, an introduction to the Tornado Future Center and an overview of scholarships — items that are normally addressed throughout the year, according to Thompson.

“We did not need to send North students to the auditorium Wednesday, nor are we expecting to Monday,” Thompson wrote Friday.

While there was some online speculation that the North Medford teachers “planned” it, calling Wednesday saying they’d be out Friday, the district only said individual decisions could have been due to not just sick days, but personal or vacation time.

Not everyone was happy with North Medford’s plan. Lori Goodrich, a parent of a student who attends the school, wrote on Twitter, “My 2 boys showed up to LEARN today, damn it!”

While Medford experienced some problems with substitute teachers Nov. 12, other districts in Oregon and its neighbor to the north, Washington, outright canceled instruction.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Beaverton, Salem-Keizer, Corvallis, McMinnville, Hillsboro, Coquille and Greater Albany Public Schools were among districts in the Beaver state that did not hold class the Friday after Veterans Day. Reasons for those districts’ decisions ranged from the need for teachers to prepare for future instruction to simply “high levels of fatigue,” the report said.

Marc Siegel, director of communications for the Oregon Department of Education, had this to say to the Mail Tribune about the Nov. 12 closures: “School districts are required to meet a certain number of instructional hours in a school year, but Oregon Department of Education doesn’t determine which days they have to have school.”

Elsewhere, the Seattle Public School District announced no school Nov. 12, something officials admitted was a change from the instructional calendar.

”We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday, Nov. 12, and do not have adequate personnel to open schools with the necessary environment for student safety and high-quality learning,” the district said in a statement. “The number of leave requests on a Friday after a federal holiday is indicative of the fatigue our staff and students are experiencing in these months [in returning] to the classroom. The four-day weekend may offer physical, mental and emotional restoration.”

Patrick Lee, superintendent of the Rogue River School District, told the Mail Tribune his district had the day off Nov. 12, but it was planned for parent-teacher conferences well in advance of that day.

He did admit, however, that “staffing is a challenge right now,” referring to the shortages in classified staff and a lack of substitute teachers.

“We have had difficulties finding substitutes when a teacher is out. As a result, teachers are having to cover for each other,” Lee wrote. “By doing so, they are getting less time to [prepare] for lessons and grade work. The stress of all of this is weighing heavily on many teachers and on other school staff.”

But Rogue River’s situation has not led to what North Medford saw Friday, he added.

Several other district calendars, including Ashland, Medford, Phoenix-Talent and Eagle Point, showed normal days of instruction for students Nov. 12.

Sam Bogdanove, superintendent for Ashland schools, said “we do have challenges with subs on any given day, but we did not have a larger than normal need for subs that Friday.”

He added, “I am grateful to the teachers and staff for their dedication and commitment to kids.”

Dean MacInnis, communications supervisor, expressed similar thoughts in an email to the Mail Tribune Monday.

“It's important to offer in-person learning as many days as we can to benefit our students’ education,” MacInnis wrote. “The reason we were able to do so is because of the dedication of our staff and having enough staff available.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.