TAHS Staff Stretched Thin by COVID-19


Todd Cammarata

COVID-19 has resulted in a number of student and staff absences over the past several weeks, which as in part led to the decision to move students to a virtual model for the next few weeks.

Tyrone High School District’s decision to move temporarily to virtual instruction in the middle and high school was made for several reasons, not least among them is the impact that COVID has had on school district staff’s ability to effectively teach the students.

Several Tyrone teachers and staff members have come down with the virus themselves, and several others have been quarantined due to close contact with students, teachers, or family members who tested positive for the virus.

Last week there were five high school staff members quarantined, along with two in the elementary and middle school. With very few substitute teachers available, the teachers have been stretched thin covering for other teachers as COVID cases have risen in the area.

Students have missed a lot of instructional time because of teachers being out.  Some students have had to report to the auditorium for classes or have their classes covered by teachers in other disciplines.

When we do not have enough substitutes, and teachers are covering classes during their planning periods on a frequent basis, this adds more stress to staff”

— Superintendent Leslie Estep

“When we do not have enough substitutes, and teachers are covering classes during their planning periods on a frequent basis, this adds more stress to staff,” said Tyrone Area School District Superintendent Leslie Estep.

For veteran social studies teacher Suzy Burket, this has without a doubt been the most challenging school year of her career.

“Losing planning periods to cover others and rewriting my whole curriculum to simplify it so that students can do it from home [has been a big challenge],” said Burket. “I definitely feel more stressed than any other year.”

English teacher Kathy Beigle pointed out that the pandemic has impacted everything she does, from the lessons she is able to teach to the morale of the students and teachers.

“[The biggest challenges this school year have been] wearing a mask all day, student absences, no group work, loss of sporting events, and the obvious effect it’s had on students,” said Beigle.

Teachers are having an especially difficult time catching students up after extended absences.

“The staff have felt a lot of stress over the last few weeks as more students have had to quarantine due to exposures in and out of school, leading to having to prepare work for those students, provide directions and guidance, etc. so that the absent students can remain as up-to-date as possible,” said superintendent Leslie Estep.

Students who come in close contact with the virus must be quarantined, which means students are missing almost two weeks of school while the rest of the students move forward.

Last week there were 31 students quarantined in the high school, 11 in middle school, and 39 in the elementary school. These numbers were in addition to those out for other illnesses or reasons.

The student absence rate is currently about three times higher than before the pandemic.

In February, the month before the pandemic hit, the average number of student absences per day in the high school was 46.

This school year, the average number of absent students has tripled. Last week there was an average of 107 absent students per day at the high school, which is nearly one-fifth of the student body.

“Getting all of the students who are absent caught up is difficult, especially without much planning time,” said social studies teacher Todd Cammarata.

I am focusing more on God, family, and giving myself a lot of grace when things don’t go as planned”

— English teacher Karissa Budny

But teachers said they are doing their best to deal with the situation.

“My mental health is pretty good. I’m just more stressed,” said Spanish teacher Holly Sechler, “I cope by going home and disengaging from school. Spending time with my dogs and family helps me.”

English teacher Steve Everhart had a different take on the situation.

“Stress is when you lose your job, your family breaks up, or you’ve lost three limbs in a shark attack,” said Everhart. “This is a sniffle for most folks. People don’t know what real stress is anymore. They just need a little crisis to Facebook about.”

But for most of the teachers and students, the past couple of weeks have been really challenging, but most agree that they will continue to get through this together.

“I am focusing more on God, family, and giving myself a lot of grace when things don’t go as planned,” said ninth-grade English teacher Karissa Budny. “The hardest part has been feeling like I am not failing, in general. There is a saying we can’t be “all things to all people,” and right now I feel like I am being asked, or maybe putting pressure on myself, to do exactly that, which is impossible and sets one up for failure.”