MILLVILLE, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Three secondary schools in the Millville Public School District are dismissing early for the next four weeks as the district adjusts to COVID-related staffing shortages.
Students at Lakeside Middle School, Memorial High School and Millville Senior High School are on the early dismissal schedule through Friday, Feb. 25.
"Well, today is our first day," said district superintendent Tony Trongone outside Millville Senior High School on Monday.
Students will have four hours of instruction and then get dismissed early.
"Our teachers- we have a contractual obligation to them that they get a lunch and a prep period. They'll serve that at the end of the day, when kids are not here and that provides us more staffing to fill in for those staff that are absent," Trongone said.
The superintendent said an analysis over the past five months found that instruction on the secondary level has been severely impacted due to a lack of substitutes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added their substitute pool is a quarter of what it was pre-pandemic.
Trongone said shortening class periods allows the district to more effectively use the staff they do have.
Full-time learning for the secondary school students is expected to resume on February 28.
"We want adults in front of students," said Trongone.
On a day last month, 115 teachers called out and 75 of those positions were not filled.
Middle and high school students without substitutes had to sit in the gym or auditorium, under supervision, and work on their laptops.
"We've had a ton of absences. They have to keep calling down teachers that are free first block to cover other classes. It's kind of a mess," said high school student Ree Sheppard.
Trongone said his goal is to keep students in school.
"You can't talk out of both sides of your mouth. You can't say 'I need you to come in,' but in the next sentence say 'don't come in if you're sick,'" said Trongone.
The shortage of substitutes was leaving some students with no instruction at all.
"I think it will work better than having kids sit in the gym for an entire block," said Sheppard.
This does not affect Pre-K through 5th-grade students.
Help from the state level is coming from the Department of Education, which is providing an additional and expedited pathway to earn a substitute teaching credential in New Jersey.
A statement from The New Jersey Department of Education sent to Action News said, "This new pathway, which is available until June 30, 2023, reduces the number of college credits required and changes the age of applicants to 20."
Millville Public School District sending some students home early due to staff shortage
With this modified schedule, students will have shortened class periods but enough teachers to cover them.
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