COVID-19 Update: Spike in cases, remote teaching, custodian shortage, TEA


Abby Lincks

As absence of staff and students increase, more are opting to wear a mask full-time during the school day.

Abby Lincks , Editor

From the beginning, this year was a wild card with a return to an in-person environment amidst rising COVID cases. Taking the year from bad to worse, reported case numbers and exposures at Vandegrift have skyrocketed with the return of students and staff after the December holiday break and celebration of the New Year. 

“We became educators because we like interacting with kids and that fun, interaction piece was taken away from teachers and students,” assistant principal Jayme Spexarth said. “Now that we’re back in person, I would say we’ve had to relearn how to interact with each other socially.” 

As students and faculty return to the normalcy of attending on-site classes, all must socially do what they can to maintain this privilege that pre-COVID, we may not have had much appreciation for. 

“The most important thing to do is stay home, especially if you’re not feeling well,” Spexarth said. 

With large, frequent student and staff absences, remote teaching has been put back on the table. 

“Because of this huge spike, we’re re-incorporating this option for teachers who are at home but not super sick to be able to teach remotely so they can continue to engage with their students,” Spexarth said.

Though students may feel a little jumbled, google classroom has proven to be a vital, flexible source to help everyone get their work done in addition to communicating with staff readily available.

“Maybe you’ll be without your regular teacher for a little bit but there’s people here to support you and if you have any questions or needs, don’t hesitate to call us,” administrative assistant Julie Saia said.

On several occasions, there have been twenty-two teacher absences with only four substitute teachers. This leaves available teachers encouraged to cover for fellow colleagues during their conference periods. If agreed, they will be compensated as a result of law which indicated they are not expected to be without a conference period. 

“From a teacher perspective…that’s physically exhausting but it also means you have to take your grading or planning home when you have to stay later for that; so I hope it’s not something that we have to continue,” Spexarth said. 

Staff recruitment has gotten progressively more difficult, leaving any progress towards the custodian shortage at a standstill. 

“We’re supposed to have eleven custodians,” Spexarth said. “We only have four currently employed.” 

While student organizations like Key Club and National Honor Society dedicate time to sweeping hallways, overall cleanliness is not up to par, making students and staff have to help each other out and consider putting the ‘two-years-ago normal’ aside.

“Instead of being in classrooms and giving teachers feedback and supporting kids, I’ll be in the hallway mopping today,” Spexarth said. 

In March of 2020, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved for districts to go virtual and gave waivers for schools that needed to transition from in-person to virtual for a couple weeks like Vandegrift did in November of 2020. But, despite rising cases and exposure, the TEA has not made that an option recently. 

“I can only guess, based on their actions, that they’ve deemed that the greatest benefit is found from students being in-person,” Spexarth said. “If they didn’t feel that way, they probably would have already approved virtual.”

Both Spexarth and Saia agreed that as the pandemic stretches on, communication and support will continue to be vital for teachers. 

“If you have questions, if you’re having a hard time navigating the time you were out, or keeping up with work, reach out to your teachers, reach out to your AP’s because we are absolutely here to support you and work through that,” Spexarth said.