Grandview Heights Schools: Pool of substitutes limited as COVID-19 cases rise

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

Grandview Heights Schools has seen an increase in the number of students and staff forced to quarantine after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The number of students and staff who actually have tested positive for the virus has remained relatively low, according to Superintendent Andy Culp.

Andy Culp

Both categories remain well below the percentage that typically would trigger a potential switch back to 100% remote learning, Culp said.

The bad news is those increases are following the trend seen communitywide at the local, county, state and national level, he said.

The other trend is that all school districts, including Grandview Heights, are being challenged to find enough substitutes to fill in for absent teachers, Culp said.

"There is a certain percentage of people who would be willing to work as substitutes normally who don't feel comfortable working as substitutes in the COVID atmosphere," including older people who recently retired as full-time teachers, he said. 

A greater number of substitutes also are needed because the pandemic has caused a greater number of staff absences than would be typical during the fall, Culp said. 

Absenteeism rates typically climb during flu season, he said.

"Normally, Grandview averages around a 93% fill rate, which means that for every 10 teacher absences, we're able to fill about 9.2 or 9.3 of the requests on a daily basis," Culp said.

The district's fill rate Nov. 13 was only 43%, "which is as low as I've ever seen," he said.

The fill rate usually hasn't been that low this school year, but it often has been below the typical 93% rate, Culp said.

Grandview acted proactively by hiring three full-time substitutes at the beginning of the school year, with one being assigned to each building, he said.

That has helped, but the COVID-19-related absences have meant that other personnel, including principals, assistant principals and counselors, have had to step in to substitute for teachers in the classroom, Culp said.

In some instances, each of those types of personnel were filling in for teachers in the classroom Nov. 13, he said.

In some cases, teachers who are feeling well enough have been able to teach their classes remotely from home to students in the classroom while paraprofessionals or other personnel are stationed in their classroom, Culp said.

Grandview has hired a fourth full-time substitute to work districtwide as needed, he said.

Other districts have increased their pay rates for substitutes, including Columbus City Schools, Culp said.

"It's something we might consider, as well, but so far, it doesn't seem like increasing the pay rates makes much of a difference," he said. "Columbus increased their sub rates and still had a lower fill rate than we did" Nov. 13.

Grandview's daily sub rate is $100 for a full day and $60 for a half day, human-resources manager Kirsten Carroll said. The district has a long-term sub rate of $110 per day and a building sub rate of $120 per day.

"Our standard rate was increased last year to come more in line with the average in the area," she said. "I don't know that we can say it's average now, as some school districts are raising their rates."

The districts with which she has been in contact, Carroll said, have indicated that raising rates doesn't seem to solve the sub problem.

"It's a statewide issue," Culp said.

Grandview began the school year operating with a 100% remote-learning model but switched to a hybrid model Sept. 8.

Under the hybrid model, students attend class in their school building every day in the morning or afternoon. 

Grandview gets its substitute teachers through the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, which maintains a pool of candidates for substitute assignments, he said.

The district has no way of knowing if or when the changing COVID-19 situation might require Grandview to switch back to 100% remote learning, Culp said.

"I don't know what may or may not cause us to have to move to the distance-learning option, but certainly, staffing and sub coverage and our inability to find subs does present a real challenge," he said. 

Franklin County, for example, was moved to the state's purple alert status Nov. 19.

"As of this moment we are planning on staying in our hybrid model," Culp said Nov. 19. "Things are changing fast, however. We are evaluating seriously taking a timeout with athletics, but no final decisions have been made."

The staffing and substitute issue likely will be one of the key triggers if Grandview is forced to return to distance learning, Culp said.

"Whether it's the two-week case rate, positivity rate, ICU admissions or hospitalizations in general, all those numbers are going up," Culp said. "The good news is that we aren't seeing linked cases in our school buildings, where student A passes the virus on to student B and they pass it on to student C and they pass it to yet another student.

"That's a good indication the procedures and protocols we have in place to mitigate COVID-19 are working and that schools seem to be a safe place for kids from elementary to high school," he said.

Those protocols include wearing masks, maintaining 6-foot distances and regular washing and sanitizing hands, Culp said.

The district's COVID-19 figures are updated daily on a dashboard posted under the health services department page at ghcsd.org, Culp said.

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