The unexpected announcements by the Seattle, Bellevue and Kent school districts that there would be no classes Friday due to staffing shortages have caused anger and frustration among parents who are scrambling to figure out child care.
On Tuesday, officials in Seattle Public Schools and the Bellevue School District announced class cancellations for Friday because of substitute and staffing shortages. The Kent School District followed suit on Wednesday. Students and staff had no school on Thursday, which was Veterans Day, a federal holiday.
Douglas Glazer, who has three children in Seattle schools, said even though the district will tack on a day at the end of the school year, it won’t replace what students would have learned on Friday.
“No learning happens the last week of school and making the school year last one extra day doesn’t mean much,” Glazer said. “The short notice is incredibly frustrating. How did you [the school district] not see this coming?”
School district officials have pointed to an exhausting year of teaching and learning during a pandemic as the reason for staff shortages and high numbers of staff requesting Friday off. It’s a problem across the country, and a few other school districts in other states also canceled school days. Employee burnout also prompted some school districts to make Friday a mental health day.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said he wasn’t shocked by the closures; he even registered surprise that so few school districts had to close. He said the state has approved 10% more emergency substitute certificates — which allow workers without a college degree to lead a classroom — this year compared to previous years.
“In big districts, if they weren’t looking at this possibility a few weeks ago, then this happens,” he said. “We didn’t see anything like this happen pre-pandemic.”
A statement from Kent school officials expressed the level of stress that led to the closure.
“Our teachers, support staff, and administrators at every level and in our central office have gone above and beyond each day to serve our students and families, often sacrificing the time they need to take care of themselves,” the statement from school officials said. “The levels of stress in our staff are incredibly concerning, we believe this has in part led to the high volume of planned leave for Friday, November 12.”
More than 600 educators in Seattle Schools requested leave on Friday, officials said. Seattle families were notified Tuesday. But the district seemed to know it had a problem on its hands the week before; on Nov. 4, human resource officials sent an email to all district staff flagging the high number of people requesting Friday off.
“We encourage you to please prioritize being in your school on November 12,” the email said. “Our current major shortage of staff creates gaps in service and instruction, particularly for those students who are most vulnerable and furthest away from educational justice. Absences also add more strain and difficulty for those at work on days where large absences occur.”
When taking personal leave, Seattle educators have to notify supervisors at least three working days in advance, according to the collective bargaining agreement between the Seattle Educators Association and the district. Employees must also make arrangements for a substitute if they work in a position where a “pool of substitutes exists.”
Seattle employees are also “encouraged” to not take personal leave on Fridays or “in conjunction with holiday weekends,” the collective bargaining agreement says. “Fridays and Mondays, particularly those associated with a holiday weekend, are generally those days which have the highest demand for substitutes and often the Substitute Office cannot fill all requests for substitutes.”
A printing error on some Seattle school calendars could have also caused confusion among parents and staff. A calendar at Chief Seattle High School wrongly labeled Veterans Day on Nov. 12. The federal holiday is always observed on Nov. 11.
“We are trying to determine how that error was made,” district spokesperson Tim Robinson said. “At this point, we’re unable to determine who printed that calendar.”
Kent students will make up the missed day on March 25, Bellevue students will make it up on Jan. 28, and Seattle students will make up the day at the end of the school year.
Seattle Times reporter Dahlia Bazzaz contributed to this story.