Lack of staff causes Mont Pleasant Middle School to dismiss early

Students were dismissed early from Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady after 17 teachers didn't show up for work.

Students were dismissed early from Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady after 17 teachers didn't show up for work.

As eighth-grader Ty’Jai Saxon left Mount Pleasant Middle School at 11:30 a.m. Friday she rushed to her mother’s car, which was quickly filling up with her siblings and cousins. 

Before they left Saxon began shouting “We need more teachers.” 

School closed unexpectedly Friday at the half-day mark when 17 teachers did not show up for work and there were no substitutes to cover for the teachers, creating a staffing shortage, said Karen Corona, the director of communication and public information for the district. 

“The principal knew yesterday that seven of them wouldn’t be in today [personal time requested in advance] and last night scrambled to find coverage for those classes,” she said in an email. 

But then 10 more teachers called out overnight and that morning. The entire region depends on the same service when it needs substitute teachers, Corona said.

“It’s an issue common to many districts,” she said.

She said staffing shortages have been happening in other schools, but not to the level of having to dismiss early.

Corona said she knows one teacher had an injury. 

“We require employees who have any signs of illness – runny nose, cough, headache, upset stomach … anything – not to come to school,” she said. “You can’t predict when you might not feel well.  So, perhaps some of them woke up and didn’t feel well. I am not exactly sure why they called in but I’ve been told there is no indication that these absences are COVID-related.”

The absences weren’t on purpose either, said Juliet Benaquisto, the president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers – the union representing teachers in the district. 

“There was absolutely no concerted effort by teachers to cause a problem for the school or the district,” she said. “The absences I’m sure are a response to the COVID protocols that teachers and schools have to follow now.”

The school has 94 staff and faculty and 806 students, Corona said. 

Whatever the reason was for the absences, eighth-grader Saxon was not happy to leave.

“I get upset when I don’t have my work done,” said Saxon, who wants to be a lawyer. 

While students waited for dismissal, Corona said, students were split up and moved to different classrooms and areas like the gym where they participated in “mindfulness lessons and circles.”

But, Saxon said instead of learning anything during the hours they were in school, eighth-graders were taken into one of the project rooms and watched a movie. 

Saxon’s mom, Deandra Cook, said the situation is worrisome. 

“They’ve missed enough learning,” she said. 

Cook, a manager at the Family Dollar on Crane Street, had to leave work and pick up her two kids and then family members’ kids because they could not leave their jobs. 

She said she didn’t understand why it was just this school with the issue and why the district couldn’t find another way to make it work so the kids could stay in school. 

Julia Melvin said the early dismissal kind of complicated things for her Friday morning. She does childcare for other people and because it was raining she didn’t want to bring the two children she was watching outside. Thankfully, she said her roommate was able to watch them while she picked up her granddaughter who is in the seventh grade. 

“On a normal day this would’ve been complicated, but I was off today,” said Randy Jones, who works at a Cisco warehouse, as he waited for his daughter.

He said it wouldn’t have been easy to leave his job on the fly to get his daughter who is in the eighth grade. 

Haresh Hera didn’t have any issue picking up his daughter, who is in the seventh grade, because he’s self-employed. 

He said the early dismissal message from the district came in at 8:37 a.m. 

“I dropped them off and then the message came,” he said. “If I knew I would’ve kept her home.”

The 21st Century afterschool program was also canceled, Corona said. 

However, the Boys and Girls Club opened at 11:30 a.m. for students who were members. 

Students also received grab-and-go lunches, she said. 

Corona said families have to remember to be prepared for unexpected updates and changes.

“While we don’t want to have to dismiss early, it’s one of those things – given the variables of a pandemic and the situation at hand – that we’ve been advising could happen,” she said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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