MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — The education system has been the latest facing pandemic-led staff shortages as they begin this school year.

Thousands of teachers retired across the state after the first year of the pandemic, and countless others left the industry before retirement eligibility. All of this has been made for a challenging start to the 2021-22 school year.

A mass exodus of school staff in 2020 on top of another wave of coronavirus sweeping through schools has Alabama Education Association leaders worried for their school systems.

“It’s just right now it’s unbearable, the stress is unbearable for many employees,” Alabama Education Association District 3 Director Beverly Sims said.

More than 3,000 teachers in the state retired in 2020, according to the Teachers Retirement Systems of Alabama, the highest number in almost a decade. Sims said she thinks the final number of departing school staff, in reality, has been much higher.

“It wasn’t just people retiring, we just had a lot of people leaving because they just couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.

The administration has struggled to fill those positions, many sitting vacant even now.

“[Hiring managers] are truly doing the best they can do and they’re out here trying to coax people to apply for the jobs. We can’t even find people to fill all these jobs,” she said. “With the additional efforts to try to combat COVID, we don’t need any openings. We need every position filled. We need everybody doing their job because when you have one opening it’s like a domino effect and somebody else has to pick up the responsibilities of that job.”

She fears last year’s mass exodus will not be the systems’ last.

“Just before school started, even since school started, I have seen many teachers just go ahead and resign. Some of them thought ‘I’ll try it, I’ll try to come back, I’ll try to do it another year,’ and a few days back in this COVID mess and they just couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.

Sims said every board meeting it seems she and her colleagues across the state see a new list of resignations, meaning those still working in the system are forced to take on more responsibilities.

Sims’ jurisdiction of District 3 includes Madison County and Madison City.

“Madison County is short-staffed in a lot of schools. I get a text or an email almost every hour from somebody saying, ‘oh they pulled me from this job or that job, but that’s not my job,” she said.

Sims said along with being stretched too thin, the other major reason for sudden departures, she said it’s actually parents getting angry at teachers and bus drivers.

“One of the things that I think would really help our educators is our parents need to chill. they need to stop the hate, stop the hate and stop the hostilities because it is absolutely ridiculous,” Sims said.

Sims said while she understands it can be frustrating, educators are doing their best to navigate this pandemic.

“It’s just at the point where this is a breaking point for a lot of people. I know people right now who are looking and as soon as they get another job, they’ll be gone,” she said.

Sims said she wishes state government would take more of a role in uniform regulation when it came to COVID-19 policies to take some of the stress off of the school systems.

She adds having more resources available would make it an all-around easier task to fight this pandemic successfully.

“When you don’t have resources you can’t hire enough people. You’ve got people getting sick, having to be out or being told they have to quarantine, and then there are no resources or you can’t find people to sub. Then that puts more stress on people who are at the school. It’s a vicious cycle, it really is.”