School districts are canceling thousands of classes due to staff shortages and teacher burnout

School kids elementary school children
Elementary school children MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images
  • Schools across the US are canceling classes over staff shortages and teacher burnout.
  • Such cancellations have affected 858 districts and 8,692 individual schools just this month.
  • Some working parents are furious, especially about sudden cancellations.

Schools across the US are canceling classes over staff shortages and teacher burnout, sparking fury among some working parents. 

Cancellations have affected 858 districts and 8,692 individual schools in November, NPR reported, citing Burbio, a tracker of school district websites. In 2021, there have been at least 3,145 school closures to give teachers and students mental-health days, according to the Wall Street Journal and Burbio.

This is being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than a year of virtual learning, students have returned to schools burdened by new health protocols, such as extra cleaning requirements, and not enough staff to take on the extra work. 

The cancellations often come with short notice, putting some parents in a tough position.

One Michigan school district announced earlier this month that they were taking the full week of Thanksgiving off, NPR reported. The staff had no summer break, since a lot of students did summer school, Alena Zachery-Ross, the superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools, told NPR. And coming back in-person hasn’t been an easy transition. Custodial workers have racked up 800 hours of combined overtime, and they still can’t keep up with all the disinfection tasks, she told NPR.

Zachery-Ross’s staff told her they were going straight to sleep when they got home this weekend.  “They were spent,” she told NPR.

Schools in Suffolk, Virginia, recently said there would be early dismissals every other Wednesday this year to avoid teacher burnout, the Wall Street Journal reported. Reagan Davis, a math teacher there, said they were staying late to catch up on work after losing planning time to record lessons for students in quarantine and cover for absent teachers

“We’re exhausted, for lack of a better term,” Davis told the Journal.

Some of these closures are an indirect result of COVID-19 infection risk. One school told NPR that many staff took the day off after Thanksgiving. Classes would usually be combined and stay open, but rules around social distancing made that impossible.

Still, some parents are infuriated. Parents wrote to NPR’s Anya Kamenetz after a tweet asking how the closures were affecting their families.

Tabbatha Renea, a single mom with a young child wrote to her school district superintendent and shared the email with NPR. She said the closures are adding to the uphill battle she’s fighting for her daughter, a young Black girl, to be successful.

“It’s not just about finding childcare,” she said in the email shared with NPR. “I can typically send my kid to sit in front of the tv at her Grandma’s house, but her Grandma can’t do homeschooling work with her,” she said.