One local author, illustrator and teacher who’s employment situation has changed since the mass lay-offs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic is Amanda Gatton.
Prior to the pandemic, Amanda was working as a substitute teacher and aide for the Washington Court House City Schools District (WCHCS).
“Even though I worked exclusively for the district and accepted jobs every day, I was not allowed a year-round contract,” explained Amanda by email. “Therefore, the day school ended, my pay ended.”
According to Trevor Patton, the director of marketing and communications for WCHCS, substitute teachers are as-needed employees and are not given year-round contracts as substitutes are “only needed when faculty members are absent from their job due to illness, professional development, etc.” Since current education is being done remotely, there is little opportunity for substitutes to fill vacancies.
Although Amanda has applied for unemployment benefits, no payments have been received.
“I lost my job in the very first wave of layoffs. The governor assured people that unemployment payments would be made within five days of filing the claim,” wrote Amanda. “Well, first it took eight days for me to successfully submit my claim. The website was completely overwhelmed, and simply did not work. When I would call there, every time it would simply say there were too many callers, and then disconnect the call. I did get through to an individual once, but the only thing she was able to help me with was providing a mass layoff number.”
“When I did finally get the website to work, I received an email telling me to ‘file my first claim’ two days later. I thought, great, well it worked then. They ask you questions each week such as, did you work full time, were you offered employment, etc. So, I filled that out and thought I would be paid,” explained Amanda. “Then I was asked to answer questions again several days later. The questions were weird and by the wording, my layoff was being treated as a regular end of the school year layoff rather than a Covid layoff. I don’t think substitutes would normally qualify in the summer time (I’ve never applied) however, I am already expected to stretch eight months of income over twelve months, so I really thought it would be fair for me to expect unemployment benefits since this was my regular time to work.”
While Amanda was struggling to receive unemployment benefits during the massive layoffs, she was able to find an alternative source of employment.
“I have started working as an independent contractor for an Internet platform called Outschool,” wrote Amanda. “It took me about three weeks to organize the classes I would teach, learn the technology I needed to know to manage online classrooms and prepare a teacher profile. I have now been teaching through that platform, using an app called Zoom, for a week and a half, and I have already had the joy of reaching hundreds of students around the globe.”
According to Amanda, she is fortunate to have been able to “create” a new position for herself that utilizes her skills and talents.
“I am so grateful for Outschool and this incredible opportunity during a historic time,” wrote Amanda. “We are very blessed that my husband’s income can support us alone however, it has turned out that my new position has significantly increased my salary now. So, being forced to find something else ended up actually placing us in a better financial situation. That is a weird feeling to balance with guilt and sorrow over so many other folks hurting and struggling though.”
Her husband, Adam Gatton, works as a truck driver.
“It’s really hard to send my husband out into this while the kids and I get to stay home,” wrote Amanda. “I worry about him, even though I know he’s being very careful. I’m glad we’re able to abide by the social distancing rules, but I struggle with guilt that I get to do that, while my husband and many others continue to place themselves in harm’s way. I can’t lie, that haunts my dreams at night.”
Their children, Jacob McConkey and Carmen Gatton, attend WCHCS. Jacob is a seventh grader at Washington Middle School while Carmen is a fourth grader at Belle Aire Intermediate. According to Amanda, since this began, she has been able to “reconnect” with both children.
“It’s very much reminded me of when they were little,” wrote Amanda. “I was a stay at home mom, before school and sports, and we just spent all our days at home playing in the yard. Again, it’s weird to admit this, but this has been a really special time for a momma and her kiddos.”
Something Amanda has offered even before the pandemic for other parents and their kiddos are a handful of free downloadable activities that can be printed from her author website, www.amandadgatton.com/p/home.html, under the “blog” category. These activities include coloring pages and paper dolls.
Something that has helped with her own children during the time she was unemployed and even now with social distancing is the WCHCS emergency meal program.
“My kids are accepting food from their wonderful bus driver, Alyssa, each day, and they both get lunch and breakfast. This is tremendously helpful in stretching out our food supply so that we don’t need to make as many trips out on grocery excursions, so I am grateful for that,” wrote Amanda.
Although they are now in a better financial position and are making the best of the situation, she still does not know if unemployment benefits will be received for the weeks she went without pay, even though her online account says there is an amount of money that was scheduled to be paid.
“There has been absolutely no further communication. I still never got a no. But the money that my account says is due to me has never been paid. It was a very upsetting feeling — like I somehow didn’t deserve help once I did patiently wait my turn to get my claim to file,” explained Amanda. “I have to admit though, it’s hurtful that I was essentially denied unemployment, and I don’t know why. I’ve gone to all this trouble scrambling to do something else, and I’m still deciding if I’ll return after this is over.”
Amanda made a request for people to take the pandemic seriously.
“I already have one personal friend who was tested and another friend who’s (already) sick mother was tested. It becomes much more ‘real’ when it’s someone you know, not just news stories or ‘vague’ people across the sea,” wrote Amanda. “It is not the flu. No one is exempt. Please keep yourself safe and do your part to keep everybody safe, if for no other reason than to protect your fellow citizens and human beings who continue to go out every day and work — many for low wages and poor benefits. They deserve our respect.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.