California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Tuesday to address in-person learning in school and staffing shortages amid a COVID-19 surge driven by the omicron variant.
The executive order will address staffing shortages by including a $2.9 billion budget to engage more teachers and staff in high-need school districts and provide them professional development and training, according to a press release by Newsom’s office. The order will also lower state barriers that prevent short-term substitute teachers from being hired and prevent retired teachers from returning in order to ensure that schools have enough staff in classrooms.
“Schools nationwide returning from winter break are experiencing short-term staffing shortages that are putting a strain on operations,” Newsom said in the press release.
Staffing shortages at Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, are due to not only COVID-19, but also seasonal illnesses and difficulty filling classified positions in schools, noted BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens. Not only are school districts suffering from a lack of available staff due to illnesses, but staff members currently in school are also worried about particular conditions, Stephens added.
Stephens said he hopes the executive order will provide more opportunities for BUSD to reach out to retired teachers and flexibility when hiring substitute teachers in covered classrooms, as well as retain substitutes for longer periods of time.
“The executive order will be very helpful to public school districts in California, including Berkeley Unified,” Stephens said. “We’ve been experiencing severe staffing shortages due to the omicron surge, and having additional options at our disposal will help us cover more classrooms.”
According to campus public health professor John Swartzberg, the shortage of teachers and staff is primarily due to COVID-19 transmission. He believes that by increasing the available pool of teachers, the executive order will be able to maintain orderly operations in schools.
While the funds provided by the order will help schools in the short term, additional funds should be put toward the education of students amid the crisis, Swartzberg added.
Despite the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, BUSD is working closely with the city of Berkeley to increase testing capacity and provide vaccinations for teachers and students in the district, Stephens said.
“Right now, the district is working hard to do a number of things all at once,” Stephens said. “We are continuing to get high levels of cooperation from families and students.”