Increase in staff and student absences causes concerns

Graph supplied by Fayette County Health Department regarding COVID-19 in Lexington: Graphs and Charts on 1/20/22.

Graph supplied by Fayette County Health Department regarding COVID-19 in Lexington: Graphs and Charts on 1/20/22.

Evie Smith, Editor

Current FCPS attendance rates are some of the lowest in years. In the 2021-22 school year, there were 4,158 COVID-19 cases reported by FCPS; in January 2022 alone, 1,310 cases were reported. Many have wondered what the number necessary to switch from in-person to online learning could be. At this point, Superintendent Demetrus Liggins has not released specific numbers for FCPS or individual schools to switch to online learning.

Both teacher and student absences at schools across the county have been elevated. Inquiries on Twitter to the different FCPS Journalism departments, started by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Lamplighter, revealed that on January 14, 2022, HC reported 25 teachers out, Dunbar reported 31, and Lafayette reported 26. HC had a 77.5% attendance rate, and Dunbar 78%. There was an average of 11-15 unfilled teacher positions within the three schools.

“We go through and we see if any teachers have plan [for] that hour that can cover [a class],” HC Administrative Assistant Emily Palmer said. “Once we do that, if [the class] is still not taken, then we reach out to the counselors to see if they can cover, and then after that, it goes to administration and they have to cover the class.”

Teachers and other staff members are having to sacrifice their planning period in order to cover other classes because of the amount of absent teachers. However, they aren’t the only ones being affected, with students also feeling the weight of the absences.

“My math teacher is currently absent and so [my peers and I] in my math class [have had to] learn through videos she has posted,” HC sophomore E.P. Cassidy said, “but it’s still hard for me to grasp the content well when she’s not here.”

The number of student absences is having an effect on both teachers and students, according to Cassidy.

“[Student absences have] somewhat inhibited my learning process because the teachers can sometimes be distracted with the amount of absences in the classroom,” Cassidy said. 

In the district’s Covid-19 update bulletin on January 19th, Superintendent Demetrus Liggins spoke of the absence rate and the benefit of receiving in-person instruction. 

“Although our absences are higher than normal, we have to ask ourselves if the 8 out of 10 students who were in school on Friday received a better experience than they would have in remote learning,” Liggins said. “We know that many of our students rely on our schools for food, mental health support, medical care, and connection to trusted adults and peers. We want to be able to provide all of those services and advantages for as long as we safely can. Our students deserve no less.”

The high number of absences, which includes teachers, students, and other staff members, cause many in the FCPS community to wonder what will be enough to transition the schools to online. Currently, Fayette County resides at the fourth highest incident rate of 120 counties, with 306.2 cases per 100,000 people.