🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
Certified Employees Additional Pay During COVID & Child Care Workers Rate Increase (Jerald): As COVID-19 cases exponentially rose at the start of the 2022 school year, seen in multiple Hamilton County Schools, an extensive amount of teachers, staff, and facilitators across the county were...
heavily affected. During the week that several Hamilton County Schools closed due to teacher absenteeism, I recall that at least six teachers at my school alone were away—either due to exposure or contraction of COVID. As expected, this left multiple classes without supervision, and I often saw other teachers and staff acting as stand-in substitutes for these classes. This led to many Hamilton County Schools temporarily closing, briefly switching to virtual learning until teachers had either recovered or found necessary replacements.
In my sophomore year of 2020-21, although I exclusively participated in remote learning the entire school year, I remember several instances in which a teacher had been exposed to or gotten sick and was momentarily made to teach both in-person and virtual classes remotely. Despite a reason for a substitute to perhaps fill in for my teacher’s position, it rarely happened—unless the teacher was extremely ill. The overall shortage of substitute teachers began to be noticeably seen at the start of the Fall 2020 school year. As online classes slowly became the staple of nationwide education, there grew to be less of a need for substitutes. From the WildcatTribune, as they observed the current state of educational employment during the 2020 school year, “Before the pandemic, a normal day would constitute about 180-250 absences, sometimes going even higher. Since staff members can complete their work remotely, whether they are sick, out of town, or other reasons, absences rates have dropped down. As schools adjust to distance learning, current certificated substitutes have taken classes and training in online platforms for students, such as Google Classroom, Seesaw, and Google Meet.” Despite the substitute training on various online communication software, substitute teacher salaries remained constant during this academic year of virtual learning; this also affected other school employees such as custodians, child-care workers, athletic coaches, etc. As problematic as the pandemic had already been, many of these employees were forced to look towards other occupations in hopes of remaining financially adept.
Visibly, COVID-19 played a tremendous part in the shortage of many academic-related occupations; however, the non-sustainable salaries for these positions also played a considerable role in the shortage. Now, with most schools back to in-person learning, where can we find proper replacements? From the newsletter The Conversation, reflecting on the state of schools in need of substitute teachers, “Some schools have called on parents to step in to provide adult supervision in classrooms. In New Mexico, the governor has asked National Guard members to serve as substitute teachers. Pay for substitute teachers averaged $17 an hour in May 2020, according to federal figures. Assuming a substitute worked as much as possible – seven hours a day for 180 school days – that’s $21,420 a year, which is about one-third of the national average pay for full-time teachers.”
During the Hamilton County board meeting, there was a discussion on raising the pay for certified employees – existing employees who can cover other classes needing a substitute. This would allow more classrooms to be covered and hopefully run by other teachers until adequate substitutes can be allocated between county schools. In addition to the additive compensation for certified employees, more deliberation on the status of childcare workers also took place during the board discussion. Ms. Thurman suggested that cafeteria workers may be the most fitting to take over for these positions until lasting employees can be recovered – simply due to the scheduling of their work periods. Although this was a good suggestion, it was mentioned that it would involve some difficulty with the process of administering payments to the workers. Nevertheless, as Hamilton County schools are now back in session, I believe that this issue will be resolved only as a matter of time. Hopefully, Hamilton County Schools can dependably establish these positions.
As I watched the delegation section of the School Board Meeting, one, in particular, stuck out to me, touching on the matter of school violence and bullying policies. Appearing in front of the board members, Summer Essex from Red Bank Middle School spoke out about her experiences with assault from her fellow students. Her mother, Crissy Essex, began their presentation by bringing out certain sections of Hamilton County’s anti-bullying procedures, pointing out the ambiguity of punishment for offenses, especially for assaulters who are still students. Following this introduction, Summer shared her story, detailing her experiences as a victim of bullying and the lack of care extended towards her by the staff around her.
Summer confessed to the room that she had been subjected to battery and assault for over one and a half years by the same perpetrator. She felt as if she could not defend herself from these attacks and violence, told by administrators that fighting back would only lead to her suspension. Not the bully’s suspension, Summer’s. I find it absurd that the system designed to protect students would do the exact opposite, ignoring the cries and pleas of the victim and even going as far as to blame them instead. School should not be a place where you fear for your safety; rather, it should be the exact opposite: a protected area for students to grow, explore, and learn. The Tennessee Department of Education promises that they “will set all students on a path to success”; however, I don’t see how they can expect to fulfill that proposition if unaddressed issues withhold some students. How can one continue about their day after experiencing assault, as if nothing happened? How can they focus on their education if they can’t trust their teachers to prioritize their safety? How can they hope to grow in an environment that’s neither cumulative nor safe?
Summer then shared her remonstrance, a type of protest, to the room, detailing one of the attacks she faced in November 2020. Sliding under her locked bathroom door, two girls harassed and videoed Summer, violating her in a manner no student, or rather any person should be subject to. In turn, she decided to remain an online learner for the duration of her middle school years, feeling unsafe and embarrassed in an environment that should be anything but. Students should be given a choice to find their education and learning path, which her aggressors robbed from Summer. She felt that she had no other options, surrounded by unsupporting, uncaring administrators and students who had done nothing to help her predicament.
The lack of help offered or change implemented shocked me, especially considering that Summer and her mother have appeared in front of board members four times already. Although promises have been made, they have been largely unfulfilled, HCS representatives admitting that no new proposals or plans are currently being formulated. Considering how HCS implemented the last anti-bullying policies five years ago, I believe it’s time for an update, including a yearly one that would be more conducive for the large expanse of students in Hamilton County Schools.
I applaud Summer’s bravery in sharing her story, hoping to make the school system a better place for all students who have shared her predicament. It was clearly a challenging experience to talk about. Still, she did an excellent job expressing her concerns and clearly outlining the next stops in bullying prevention in her new petition. I, like many others, was touched by her story and hope to see progress in the next few months, addressing the underlying issues of harassment in Hamilton County Schools.