Virus surge causing staffing strain at Minnesota schools

With respiratory viruses surging nationwide and school outbreaks skyrocketing in Minnesota, school districts across the state are struggling to keep classrooms staffed.

At Brimhall Elementary School in Roseville, so many teachers were out sick last week that Principal Ryan Vernosh had to fill in, teaching two kindergarten classes at once.

"It's an all-hands-on-deck approach," said Vernosh. "Anybody who has a teaching license in the building who isn’t already in a classroom gets called on."

Vernosh said while Roseville Schools are faring better than others, the early and aggressive start to the flu season is compounding an existing national teacher shortage. 

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"This isn’t a Roseville problem. This is a problem across the country," he said.

According to data provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, flu-like illness outbreaks more than doubled during the second week in November when compared to the previous week. 

The problem is far from isolated to one district. Hinckley-Finlayson School District moved all classes to virtual learning at the end of last week, after reporting 20% of its students and staff were out sick. 

Roseville has opted to increase substitute teacher pay to try to attract more applicants, but there still aren’t many people applying.

Vernosh said while they’re making it work, if outbreaks don’t start to taper off soon it's going to be a long cold winter.

"If this trend continues, that is going to be the biggest challenge of the 2022-23 school year," Vernosh said.