As the Omicron variant depletes school staff as it sweeps the country, some states are resorting to increasingly creative measures to find the substitute teachers needed to keep schools open, in one case even calling in the National Guard .
State workers can now serve as substitute teachers in some hard-hit districts, while other states are easing rules to speed up the hiring of replacements or bring retirees back into classrooms.
In New Mexico, where new cases have more than tripled in the past two weeks, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked National Guard and state employees to replace teachers.
“Our children, our teachers, and our parents deserve as much stability as we can give them in this time of uncertainty,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a statement Wednesday, “and the state stands ready to help keep the children in class”.
Under the New Mexico initiative, members of the National Guard and state workers must obtain a license as substitute teachers or child care workers and meet the usual requirements for substitute teachers, such as background checks and a teaching workshop.
In recent weeks, about 60 school districts and charter schools in New Mexico have transitioned to remote learning, and 75 daycares have partially or completely closed due to staffing shortages, officials said. ‘State.
Keeping schools open during the Omicron wave has become a hotly debated issue nationwide, especially among parents. President Biden was asked about the school closures during a White House press conference on Wednesday, and he was quick to point out that most schools were open.
“Let’s put it in perspective: 95%, up to 98%, of American schools are open, functioning and able to do the job,” Biden said, adding that he encouraged states and school districts to use funding to keep schools open.
According to Burbio, a data company that has tracked how schools are responding to the pandemic, in the last five school days an average of 3,631 of 98,000 public schools were disrupted each day, a relatively low figure. .
Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of New Mexico Teachers, said Wednesday that the teacher shortage was a “national crisis.”
“I think ‘terrible’ is an appropriate word,” Ms Holland said, adding that she supported Governor Lujan Grisham’s initiative to keep schools open to students.
“As long as there’s a positive adult they can bond with – whether it’s a member of the National Guard, a state employee or a substitute – and we let’s keep our schools open, that’s our top priority,” she said.
In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt issued an executive order Tuesday, which allows state agencies to let their employees serve as substitute teachers without affecting their job, salary or regular benefits.
“I have said from the beginning that our students deserve an in-person education and that our schools must remain open,” Governor Stitt said. “The state has a responsibility to do what we can to help make this happen.”
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order last week relaxing rules for substitute teachers, citing the Omicron surge. Scheduled to last until March, the order is accelerating the hiring of qualified short-term replacements, allowing current replacements to have their assignments extended and making it easier for retired teachers to return.
Teachers aren’t the only school employees in short supply. Last year in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker activated the National Guard to address a shortage of bus drivers. And in North Carolina, lawmakers have provided federal funding to districts to cover signing bonuses to help ease the shortage of cafeteria workers.