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Hundreds of Tampa Bay-area teachers out sick with COVID

As COVID cases climb in Florida, many classrooms are impacted by teacher absences combined with a shortage of substitute teachers.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With COVID cases climbing across the state, many classrooms are suffering.

The combination of teachers calling out combined with a substitute teacher shortage makes it hard to keep students on track.

According to the district's dashboard, 581 employees at Hillsborough County Schools tested positive last week. That's out of 25,000 total employees. While all of the positive cases are not teachers, many of them are and regardless of symptoms, staff members have to stay home for five days.

That means some students might not see their teacher for a whole week.

"The impact is catastrophic. You become a chaos manager if at the end of the day you’re one of the people trucking on campus," said Stephanie Yocum, a former teacher and current president of the Polk Education Association.

Polk County Schools had 736 employees out sick Monday with another 177 under quarantine.

Yocum says when too many teachers call out and the district can't find a proper substitute, supervision takes priority over instruction. She's frequently hearing this from members of the union.

Yocum added, "The best way to educate a child is in person but in order to educate a child you have to have qualified, certified instructors in front of them."

Parents are feeling the impact, too. Christie Bruner has three children in Pinellas County Schools. She says her older daughters who are in middle and high school are used to missing at least one teacher a day.

"She’s used to having to go to the cafeteria or the gym and sit with other multiple classes of kids that don’t have a teacher and they just sit there on their phones," Bruner said.

On Monday, Pinellas County Schools had 622 teachers out for a variety of reasons (sick, personal, etc.) out of approximately 7,400 instructional staff members.

There were 428 teachers out of the 622 absent due to COVID-19.

The Pinellas School Board is considering raising the daily pay for substitute teachers in an effort to attract more candidates. In the meantime, administrative staff members have filled in when necessary.

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