School Report Card: Mother-daughter teachers die of COVID-19 complications and schools face substitute shortages

Korin Miller
·9 min read
Lauryn Morley, a lower school substitute teacher for the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, Maryland, works from her home due to the Coronavirus outbreak, on April 1, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. - Her role in the school changed significantly when Coronavirus hit. She was previously working part time to support teachers when they needed to be absent from the classroom and now she helps them to build skills with new digital platforms so they can continue to teach in the best way for their students and their families.The middle school (grades 6-8) has most regularly been using Zoom and the lower grades have been using Zoom with parents. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
A school substitute teacher works from her home due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Schools, struggling to find substitutes, are even asking parents to sign up

Substitute teacher shortages are occurring across the country, with some school districts working hard to find people to temporarily lead classrooms during the pandemic, and some states getting creative to pull in new subs. In anticipation of staffing shortages, the Connecticut State Department of Education announced “flexible” staffing strategies in July, which include substitutes no longer needing a bachelor’s degree. That same month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds lowered the minimum age for substitute teachers to 20 and ruled that prospective substitutes do not need to hold a bachelor’s degree. In October, Rhode Island launched a free substitute teacher training program. Applicants need to have two years of college education and can include current college students.

Related video: Public school enrollment in U.S. dips as virus disrupts education

Delaware’s Cape Henlopen School District, which is following a hybrid learning model, sent out a flier to parents this week, urging them to “be a substitute at Cape!” The flier said that the Lewes, Del., district is looking for people with “some type of college experience,” but added that a high school degree “is OK too.” The district is also looking for substitutes for a range of positions, including paraeducators, secretaries, nurses, custodians, child nutrition workers and service aides. A spokesperson for the district did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

Lincroft Elementary School in Middletown, N.J., which is also employing a hybrid learning model, went fully remote on Tuesday and Wednesday due to staffing issues. “Lincroft Elementary School is experiencing a very large number of students and staff who are in quarantine and isolation, with additional students and staff quarantined today,” Middletown Township Public Schools superintendent Mary Ellen Walker wrote in a letter to parents and staff on Monday. “As a result, we have hit a critical point in staffing and do not have the available personnel to safely maintain our hybrid schedule at Lincroft Elementary School at this time.” Walker did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tells Yahoo Life that she’s concerned about the scaling back in many areas of required credentials to be a substitute teacher. “This is a job that requires more credentials, not less,” she says. “Substitutes are thrown into all kinds of situations. Watering down the criteria just so you have an adult in a classroom is not education. This is ridiculous.”

Weingarten urges school districts to take a closer look at how they’re handling substitutes, including their pay. “We have never paid substitutes as the jewels that they are, and this is a moment of time when you really need them,” she says. Substitutes, many of whom are retired or in high-risk categories for severe cases of COVID-19, are aware that the high demand for their services right now often means that a teacher has gotten sick or a school group needs to quarantine — and that doesn’t make them feel safe, Weingarten says.

Weingarten stresses that districts should place a “premium” on substitutes. “Make sure they feel safe and don’t water down your credentials — that’s the worst thing you can do,” she says.

Mother-daughter teachers at the same Florida school died of COVID-19 complications

Two teachers at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., have died from complications of COVID-19. Marilyn Foshee, a preschool teacher, and her daughter, Julie Foshee-Knowell, preschool director, died in the past week, according to a GoFundMe set up on behalf of the family.

“Julie and her mom were both diagnosed with COVID at the end of November,” the GoFundMe page says. “Yesterday her mom lost her battle and passed away. I’ve known Julie and her mom for quite some time now. They love people and they love helping those in need. Now is our time to help Julie and her brother as they are out of work and need help putting their beloved mom to rest. If God puts it in your heart, will you help out my sweet friend and her family. Thank you much for helping help my friend in bed at this time!”

The fundraising page was updated on Dec. 20 to say this: “It saddens me to write this, this morning, December 20th, Julie passed away due to her battle with COVID.”

Trinity Christian Academy spokesman Christopher Carr told Yahoo Life that “the entire Trinity Family is deeply saddened with the loss of these two incredible women. Both Marilyn and Julie poured their lives in to literally thousands of children during their time at Trinity. They strived each day to make nursery a wonderful adventure for every child they were entrusted with.”

Marilyn and Julie contracted COVID-19 during Thanksgiving break, Carr says, and did not return to campus. “The nursery was closed after an unrelated employee tested positive nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving break,” Carr says.

The school is planning a memorial service for the two teachers after students return from Christmas break, Carr says.

Trinity Christian Academy requires that students wear face coverings on campus. The school also urges students and staff to work together to keep the campus safe. “The more we behave as a community, with a shared sense of health and well-being, the more we will be able to ensure an open and safe learning environment for every student and teacher,” the school wrote in a health and wellness update in late October. “We are not suggesting that everyone goes into isolation. We are simply presenting a pathway forward that touches the areas where all of us can put into action best practices and thoughtful behaviors. We have done so well thus far, let’s continue.”

Florida reported 10,434 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, reported 577 new cases, according to Monday data from the Florida Department of Health.

New CDC report: Attending in-person school or childcare was not linked to positive COVID-19 tests in Mississippi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that, among children under the age of 18 in Mississippi, attending in-person schooling and childcare was not linked with an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

The report analyzed data from 633 children and teens who were tested for COVID-19 from September through November. The researchers found that 62 percent of those who tested positive for the virus attended in-person school or childcare less than 14 days before they were tested, while 68 percent of those who tested negative met the same criteria.

However, researchers found that children who tested positive were more likely to have attended functions with people from outside their household, including weddings, parties, play dates and funerals.

“Among participants with close contact with a person with COVID-19, close contacts of [children with positive results] were more likely to be family members and less likely to be school or childcare classmates” than those who tested negative, the researchers concluded. “Attending in-person school or childcare during the 2 weeks before the SARS-CoV-2 test was not associated with increased likelihood of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result,” they added.

Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life that the findings are “not really” surprising. “We know that going to school in person is low-risk for kids,” he says. “The report is good, though, because it is reassuring.”

The report also found that children who tested positive for the virus were less likely to have engaged in consistent mask use and to have been around school staff members who did the same. Researchers specifically found that parents of 64 percent of students who tested positive and 76 percent of those who tested negative said that their child and all staff members wore masks inside the school facility.

The level of adherence to COVID-19 prevention guidelines in schools and childcare centers matters, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “This varies from school system to school system, depending on how intense COVID-19 is in the community, and how careful the school system is in implementing all of the social distancing measures in schools,” he says.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will not reopen campuses when the spring semester starts

Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner said in an announcement Monday that school campuses will not reopen when the spring semester begins on Jan. 11. Beutner did not say when the district expects to have students back on campus, noting that the area is in the middle of a coronavirus surge.

Los Angeles County, where the district is located, is facing a record number of COVID-19 cases. The county’s department of health reported 11,271 new positive cases on Monday.

Beutner, who did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, shared data on Facebook Tuesday on the number of asymptomatic children in the district who tested positive for the virus the week of Dec. 14 — 5,606 — noting that the “spread of COVID-19 in the area is truly alarming.” ICU capacity in Southern California is also at zero percent, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Schaffner says he expects that other schools may also decide not to reopen their campuses for the spring semester. “It will be decided school by school and, in some areas of the country where there’s a lot of transmission, this may happen,” he says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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