2005-10-14 / Community

It’s October, But Some Classes Still Have No Teacher

By Howard Schwach


Public school classes have been in session for more than a month, but up to 1,000 students remain in learning situations without teachers each day, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE).

And, while that spokesperson says that there are only 10 teacher vacancies in Rockaway schools, personnel in some of those schools report that the problem may be much deeper than officials sources want to admit.

The DOE spokesperson lists the 10 vacancies as one traveling Science Cluster in the elementary schools, one Language Arts position at MS 43, one common branch [elementary school] position at PS 106, four positions at Far Rockaway High School (two special education, one Mathematics and one Technology) and three at Beach Channel High School (one Foreign Language and two special education vacancies).

Since elementary school teachers address one class of 30 students for the entire day, while middle school and high school teachers address several classes of 30 students each, there are as many as 900 or 1,000 students who lack a subject teacher each day in such critical areas as Mathematics, Science and Foreign Language.

Teachers at a number of schools not on the DOE’s list, however, have contacted The Wave to say that vacancies and absences have left schools scrambling each day to cover programs with substitutes and teachers on their free periods – what are called “coverages.”

One local middle school teacher who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak with the press and fears retribution from region officials, says that there typically are three vacancy programs without teachers at one of his schools and that eight or 10 teachers are absent each day, necessitating 65 to 70 coverages or “mass preps,” periods when several classes of students are put together in the school auditorium with a teacher and an administrator as a “study hall” when no teachers are available or when there is no money left to pay teachers for coverages.

That teacher, who works at a number of schools, estimates that there may be as many as 40 teacher vacancies in the Rockaway schools at any given time early in this school year.

The problem seems to be most acute at the high school level.

Last year, the DOE announced that Far Rockaway High School would be reorganized under state rules, which require the staff to reapply for their jobs, no matter how long they had been in the school.

Many experienced teachers decided to retire rather than submit applications for a job that they had held for 20 or 25 years.

Others decided to opt for transfers. Reportedly, more than a dozen of the discarded Far Rockaway High School teachers wound up at Richmond Hill High School. Many others wound up in other Queens high schools.

In September, the DOE reportedly quickly found that it had few teachers to replace those who were forced to move elsewhere or to retire.

The Wave has been told that the school opened with more than a dozen vacancies and that chaos ruled the building because of the lack of teachers.

The DOE denied those reports, saying that the school is progressing well with only four vacancies, two of them in hard-to-fill special education specialties.

“We are taking steps to find qualified teachers for all of our vacancies,” a spokesperson for Region Five told The Wave this week. “We are especially interested in filling those special education slots.”

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 students go to class each day to face a substitute teacher or coverage teacher who may or may not know the subject that is scheduled to be addressed in that classroom.

The DOE spokesperson declined to speculate on when all of the vacancies would be filled.

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