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Public schools in Seattle, Bellevue and Kent will be closed Friday due to staff shortages

Seattle Public Schools said school is canceled Friday due to an "unusually large number" of staff taking leave. Bellevue and Kent schools will be closed, too.

SEATTLE — Bellevue, Seattle and Kent public schools will be closed Friday, Nov. 12 due to a staffing shortage. 

Kent School District (KSD) announced the closures Wednesday, a day after Seattle and Bellevue. 

 "I know that each of us in Team KSD is working through trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, our staff, at every level, has experienced an unprecedented amount of stress, impacting their mental health. Unfortunately, we cannot safely operate schools with the staff and substitute shortages we are already seeing in our data," said KSD Interim Superintendent Israel Vela. 

KSD's central office will be open Friday and athletics, activities and school facility use will operate as scheduled through the weekend. 

The missed day will be made up on Friday, March 25, 2022, for KSD.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) said in a letter to families that it is aware of a large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday.

The Bellevue School District said, "School will be closed because of staffing shortages, anticipated inclement weather and COVID-19 restrictions." 

Bellevue schools said a makeup day is planned for Jan. 28. 

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SPS said hundreds of educators requested leave for Nov. 12.

"As of last week, more than 600 educators had requested a substitute and additional requests came in this week," SPS said. "Based on historical patterns, it is likely many additional staff would take leave and not come in on Friday morning. With the current labor shortage of substitutes and our current staffing levels, SPS does not have the capacity to ensure student safety and high-quality learning."

The education hours lost on Friday, which is a day after Veterans Day, will be made up during a previously scheduled day off at the end of the school year.

“This is a change from the published schedule, and we recognize the late notice creates challenging circumstances for many families,” SPS said in its letter to families. 

A statement SPS sent to KING 5 on Tuesday said, "The number of leave requests on a Friday after a federal holiday is indicative of the fatigue our staff and students are experiencing in these months of the return to classroom. The four-day weekend may offer physical, mental, and emotional restoration."

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The Lake Washington School district wrote in a letter to parents that the district is reassigning certified staff from programs and support divisions to classrooms on Friday to make up for a shortage of substitutes. Some central office administrators will also help provide coverage to schools. The district said it is expecting the highest number of substitute requests that it's seen in years on Friday, and expects to have the greatest number of unfilled positions for that particular day. 

SPS, along with other school districts across the country, is experiencing historic staff shortages, which are felt even more deeply as students returned to socially distant in-person learning this school year.

Districts across Washington state have turned to incentives and recruiting tactics to target new staff, substitutes and reduce the burden on existing teachers.

According to the Bellevue School District, "many" districts are accessing the same substitute resources, "causing further strain on teacher and support staff availability." 

One Mukilteo School District teacher told KING 5 last month that the shortages were causing even more teachers and staff to burn out, having to cover roles throughout campus.

However, the burden from the pandemic will likely begin to ease as more children ages 5-11 begin getting the newly approved pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. Schools are expected to play a big part in distributing shots with on-campus clinics in the near future.

Staff shortages are affecting school districts all over the country, with many also having to cancel classes or return to online learning.