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Hopes of children having a normal school year ended quickly when COVID-19 returned after its own summer vacation. School administrators have been in one bind after another dealing with the disease.

It’s difficult to guess from day to day which classrooms will meet in person and which must go all-virtual as cases of the disease pop up. The political climate of parents demanding masks be worn in classrooms while other parents object hasn’t been an easy one to live with, either.

And now Cabell County schools have another COVID-related problem to deal with: COVID-related absenteeism. One day last week, 16 classrooms were without a teacher because of a lack of substitutes.

“We have a system in place in all of our schools that we’ve done for years, which is teacher-for-teacher coverage,” Tim Hardesty, deputy superintendent over operations and support, told Herald-Dispatch reporter Luke Creasy. “What that means is a teacher can give up their planning period to go cover a classroom. That way none of the students miss instruction for that day.”

Teachers who give up their planning period are compensated for it, he added, since they still need that time to prepare for instruction in their own classrooms, even if it means doing it on their own time.

Complicating the problem is that retired teachers who are on the substitute list are reluctant to go back into the classroom while the number of COVID cases has risen. That’s understandable, as they in the age group most susceptible to the disease.

It’s not just a substitute teacher shortage the county is dealing with. One day last week, a substitute bus driver could not be found for a Tuesday morning run, which resulted in some students arriving to class late at Cabell Midland High School as one bus went back to cover that route after its usual run that morning.

The substitute list is for all positions, professional and service, including teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks and bus drivers.

The school system is interviewing for substitute teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks and bus drivers as it attempts to replenish its sub list.

“It’s a tough balance to have the right number of substitutes in place because you want to be able to offer enough work for them for it to be a viable income for them. If you have too many and they don’t get work, then they move on to something else or to another county,” Hardesty said.

COVID-19 has added stress and frustration to the public school system as it has to about every other human endeavor. By using patience and adaptability, parents, students and others should be able to ride out this storm until the next one comes along. Given COVID-19’s record so far, one will.

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