Historic Teacher, Student Absences in January

The numbers are clear–we are in a COVID surge. Meanwhile, decision-makers are so adamant about staying in person that they are not considering the ramifications to teachers and students.

This morning started like any other, I walked into my study hall and sat down to begin my school day. Over the intercom Principal Betsy Rains announced that 31 teachers were absent.

On Jan. 18, we learned that the absences were made up of 22 classroom teachers, seven para-educators, one long-term substitute teacher, two counselors, the college and career readiness coach, and one administrator.

We checked with a reliable source who gave us the data on student attendance.

On Jan. 14, there were 450 students absent out of 2034. That means that only 78% of our population was present.

However, we discovered that if a student is not in the building due to quarantine (marked QRS for “quarantined receiving services”), they are still counted as present.

On Jan. 14,  71 students at Dunbar were QRS, so we actually had 521 students who were not in attendance.

Three Lexington high school’s student journalists communicated about their schools’ absent rates. (Twitter @pldlamplighter)

In previous years, this low attendance number would actually be costing the district money to operate. Kentucky has been using old attendance data from before the COVID-19 pandemic to calculate current school funding.

Because of this, I checked social media to see if there had been tweets, posts, or anything informing students and staff about a plan for the possibility of switching to NTI due to the rise in new cases among faculty and students.

Having no luck, I checked in with fellow student journalists at Lafayette to see if they were experiencing the same thing. 

They were.

In fact, the Lafayette Times stated that there were classrooms with students, but no teacher present. They reported that they had 26 teacher absences, 11 of which were unfilled–meaning, no sub.

So we checked in with the Devil’s Advocate over at Henry Clay.

Same situation. They told us they had 25 teachers out and their attendance was at 77%.

The COVID-19 dashboard on the FCPS website has documented a total of 4,303  COVID cases since the beginning of the school year in August, but what’s shocking is that a third of the overall positive cases–1,364–were reported in January. And we’re only halfway through the month.

Coincidentally, while we were gathering all of this data, Dr. Liggins held a press conference to discuss COVID safety measures and the possibility of NTI in our district.

He said that NTI is on the table for discussion but isn’t an option right now; however, the NTI proposal made by the district was not yet approved at that time.

“The reason we consider in-person learning, obviously, to be the best option is we have discovered throughout the pandemic when our students were at home learning that obviously there were very serious academic losses as well as such emotional losses that our students experienced,” he said.

Tell us the truth. Be clear. I mean, “It’s about kids” right?

But what we want to stress is that holding fast to being in-person is not always the best experience for teachers or students.

When teachers are out, the goal is to find substitute teachers, but many times the sub positions go unfilled. 

Teachers have been asked to cover for absent co-workers during their planning periods, a time that is supposed to be used to prepare for their upcoming classes, and then they have to work outside of their contracted hours to do the work they needed to do during their planning period. According to Principal Rains, teachers are paid their hourly wage if they cover an entire class during their planning period.

A teacher who asked to remain anonymous told me, “It’s like we’re just babysitting right now. If I have to cover a class outside of my subject area because of an unfilled absence, I can’t really do any meaningful instruction.”

Substitutes, or teachers covering for other teachers, aren’t always fully prepared to teach the classes they substitute for, so either the class does not progress forward, or the material is not taught adequately. In AP and Dual Credit classes, this can be very detrimental to students.

Principal Rains told us on Jan. 18, “We cover classes with people within their own content areas so that they can continue instruction.” She also said that all teachers have Canvas pages that are updated and accessible to students virtually.

The idea of  “missing out on proper instruction” that FCPS is trying so hard to avoid by keeping us in person is presenting itself in different ways. 

FCPS guidance says that a school could go to NTI when the staff absences are “unmanageable.” (Twitter @pldlamplighter)

Speaking as a student, everything feels empty and weird right now. The usually crowded halls seem smaller, our classrooms are half full, the normally bustling library and cafeteria are basically empty. This isn’t the “normal” we’re striving for.

The social-emotional gains that they so desperately wanted us to have is slowly fading away as more and more of our peers are being affected by COVID. How can we form relationships with people who aren’t there?

All we want as students are answers.

Rather than continuously hearing “We’re working on a plan,” we want to hear what the plan is. And as proponents of student voice, the students of FCPS deserve to play a part in the conversation.

Tell us the truth. Be clear. I mean, “It’s about kids” right?

To read the full thread on this topic on Twitter, you can find us at https://twitter.com/pldlamplighter.



Correction Jan. 14, 8:10 pm: We incorrectly stated that the total population of Dunbar is 1584. The total population is 2034. The number of students present today was 1584.


Update Jan. 18, 12:44 p.m.: We learned that on Jan. 14, there were seven unfilled substitute requests, but all classes were covered by teachers in the content area of the absent teacher. The teachers covering the absences were paid if they covered the whole block. Ms. Rains spoke to us about how Dunbar deals with filling teacher absences. We included her quotes. We also learned that at the time of writing, Dr. Liggins was waiting on approval for the district’s NTI plan which gives principals the discretion to close schools based on their individual needs.