Facing a staffing shortage, the Christina School District has reached an agreement with the teachers union to compensate teachers for using their planning periods to cover classes for absent teachers.

The agreement, ratified by the school board Nov. 9, came the same week that the district had to make Nov. 12 a remote learning day due to teacher absences.

The new agreement with the Christina Education Association was created in response to increased teacher absences due COVID-19 and quarantine requirements. The increased absences are coupled with a shortage of substitute teachers.

The measure, which pays teachers at their per diem rate daily rate for covering a class, will be retroactive, to Nov. 1. The extra payments will cost the district $120,000 after reimbursement by the Department of Education for COVID-19 leave days.

School board members also discussed concerns they have heard from teachers.

Board member Monica Moriak said teachers are struggling to adapt to the new English language arts and math curriculums while helping students adjust to school being in-person again.

“Younger students have spent little to no time in their schools,” Moriak said. “It’s hard to push a new curriculum when you still have to practice sitting still.”

She focused on what the district could do to ease teacher concerns, such as slowing down the implementation of new curriculum material or introducing more remote learning days.

Board member Donald Patton said the shortage of teaching staff is a nationwide problem.

“We can’t create more teachers to take the stress and burden off those who have to take time every day out of their classrooms to cover other classrooms,” Patton said. “We set up a monetary thing, but I don’t think that is the answer.”

Patton said that virtual learning days like Nov. 12 have an impact on parents that the board must consider.

“I know it's a crisis, I know it's a problem, and I know it will get worse if we don’t figure out some way, not just as the Christina School District, but as the education world, to deal with this,” Patton said.

Board president Keely Powell emphasized the importance of in-person learning, using the example of her own children, who she said are performing much better in school now that in-person classes have resumed.

“My kids almost cried when they found out they weren’t going to school on Friday,” Powell said. “Which may seem strange but at their single-digit age, they love their teachers, they love their friends. They know what last year was like, and when they have to go on Zoom, they think it’s last year again.”

Powell said the issue highlights the difficulty of balancing the needs of teachers and parents, as she said many parents were opposed to the virtual day.

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