The substitute-teacher shortage forced this New Jersey school district to give middle- and high-school students an entire month of half-days

  • The teacher shortage is so bad in New Jersey, one district is giving students a month of half-days.

  • Over 2,600 middle- and high-school students are set to be dismissed early through February 25.

  • The shortened school day is an attempt to maintain in-person learning despite a lack of substitutes.

Over 2,600 middle- and high-school students at Millville Public Schools in New Jersey are set to be dismissed early from class for the entire month of February because of a shortage of substitute teachers.

The half-days begin on Monday and are set to end on February 25, a notice sent to affected families said. Lakeside Middle School is expected to follow an 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. schedule, while Memorial and Senior High School plan to start at 7:40 a.m. and end at 12:15 p.m.

The district's move to operate on a shortened schedule comes amid a national shortage of substitute teachers, a problem made worse by the recent Omicron-variant surge. As teachers continue to call out sick, the historically underpaid and unstable position has become vital to keeping schools open throughout the pandemic.

Millville Public School substitute teachers are paid between $100 and $150 a day, depending on an applicant's experience and certifications. For a typical seven-hour school day, that's about $15 to $21 an hour.

"The reality of covering these shortages is much more complicated than people may expect," Tony Trongone, Millville's superintendent, said in a statement. "Shortening class periods will allow us to more effectively use the staff we have."

At Lakeside Middle School, classes without subs were sent to the auditorium or gymnasium to complete virtual work on Google Classroom. On bad days, two or three teachers were tasked with supervising hundreds of students, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

While the half-day schedule would shorten Lakeside's classes to under 30 minutes each, it aimed to prevent situations where eight to nine classes were left without direct instruction.

"The Millville Public Schools administration has been monitoring staffing constraints since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year," the district said in a statement. "While staffing levels have varied, they have been consistently and negatively exacerbated by the lack of available substitutes. This combination has resulted in a significant lack of student access to direct instruction, specifically for grades 6-12."

"In the past five months, we have held only one virtual learning day, while other districts have not been as successful in maintaining in-person learning," the school district added.

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