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The Delaware National Guard could alleviate staffing shortages in schools

Capt. Brendan Mackie

Some school districts are struggling to keep enough staff healthy to continue in person learning.

Monday’s winter storm forced many school districts to close for a number of days this week, but others, such as New Castle County Vo-Tech, are struggling to keep schools open because of staffing shortages.

Superintendent Joseph Jones says the district was forced to return to virtual learning because at least 20 to 30 percent of staff are calling out sick, or were exposed to COVID over the winter break.

“We pride ourselves in our relationships we have with our students and the importance of them being here every day,” says Jones. “Not only from an instructional point of view but from a social and emotional point of view.”

Jones says the school already had a remote learning day scheduled on Monday to help them find out where staffing levels stand, but it turned out they needed to stay virtual all week to ensure enough staff will be able to return to schools next week.

Gov. John Carney has floated the idea of mobilizing National Guard members to help fill in those staffing gaps, such as serving lunches or driving buses.

Jones would welcome the extra bodies.

“Just having people in the building would definitely be beneficial and help — because there’s such a variety of different responsibilities that could free up other individuals; administrators and so on, that could help out,” says Jones.

Jones says teachers and staff already help fill staffing gaps, such as putting on a hairnet and helping to serve lunch when cooks are gone.

He points out his district’s schools can run effectively with up to 15 percent of staff out sick. Any more forces the school building to close, as happened this week.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.