Push for virtual learning helped Madison County area schools prevent staffing shortage

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Thursday the Alabama Education Association revealed that area schools may have faced a staffing shortage had faculty and staff been required to hold class in person.

This comes more than a week after Huntsville, Madison City and Madison County Schools decided to start the school year virtually.

“I have not had one person say to me, ‘I do not want to be there and help my kids’. They love these kids and their heart is there,” explained Beverly Sims, director of the Madison City and Madison County district of the AEA.

Sims said crucial conversations amongst teachers and administrators played a role in that big decision.

“All summer long I have been hearing from so many members I couldn’t even give you the count, because they were so concerned with going back face-to-face and being exposed to this, you know, virus,” she said.

Sims explained many educators even went as far as considering early retirement or resignation rather than going back into school buildings.

“I was talking people out of, you know, walking away until a decision was made on virtual or face to face,” Sims added. “I knew that if they started just you know resigning and quitting and retiring, that our superintendents and our administrators were going to be facing a shortage before they even got the kids in the door.”

She added that many of those educators said they only planned to leave their positions if they were asked to physically be in school buildings.

A recent survey conducted by the AEA showed 43 percent of teachers and staff, who participated across the state, have underlying health issues that put them at risk for COVID-19.

“We have some that you know are taking chemotherapy right now, or have a spouse taking chemotherapy,” Sims explained. “We have teachers that are pregnant, we have bus drivers that a lot of them are retirement age; they only do this for the health insurance.”

Wednesday, Governor Ivey announced that students second grade and above would be required wear facial coverings in schools. WHNT News 19 asked Sims about how the governor’s order has been perceived by educators.

“We have always been in support of any mandate, any guideline whether its given by Governor Ivey, Eric Mackey, all the way to a superintendent or administrator,” Sims explained. “If it’s for the safety of any student or any employee, obviously we support that.”

As far as the governor’s push to get students back in classrooms, Sims said most local educators have expressed they’d feel more comfortable getting a green light from health professionals.

Sims said at the moment, she encourages parents who may be frustrated with recent school decisions to have empathy.

“I wish they could just hear all the personal stories, instead of making all these attacks and blaming the teachers and the superintendents,” she said. “I wish they could look at every education employee as a human who wants to protect their own health and the health of their families.”

Currently Huntsville and Madison County area schools are only preparing to conduct 9 weeks of virtual learning at the start of the school year. The state education association’s survey said 67 percent of Alabama school staff and educators think the entire school year should be virtual.

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