Capistrano Unified School District officials are scrambling to get substitute teachers during Orange County’s fourth COVID surge, which is causing staff shortages throughout the country.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Capistrano Unified Trustees unanimously passed a resolution stating their temporary staffing needs amid the Omicron surge, which enables officials to use Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order that makes it easier for districts to hire substitute teachers in an effort to keep classrooms open.
“Between the time period of January 3, 2022 and January 12, 2022, the instructional programs operated by the District had a need to fill 2,064 substitute teaching assignments for in-person instruction, at an average of 258 assignments per day for 8 working days,” reads the staff report.
“Due to extreme substitute shortages caused by the Omicron-driven rise in COVID-19 cases, the instructional programs were unable to fill daily substitute assignments at an average of 22% per instructional day,” continues the report.
Rich Montgomery, an associate interim superintendent for the district, said in order to make use of the flexibility in Newsom’s executive order the district must first demonstrate there’s a need.
“The flexibility of this executive order is needed to support the continuity of instruction for students in the district,” he said.
Montgomery said the order allows for emergency substitute permits to now be issued to people with a bachelor degree and background check and extends how long a substitute can serve in a classroom.
He also said it allows for student teachers to serve a classroom without supervision of a credentialed teacher.
Capistrano Unified School District Trustees – who oversee the largest number of students in Orange County – also unanimously voted to hold off on a resolution calling on the state to give them and county public health officials control over pandemic protocols.
“There is a major misconception about the resolution I had planned to bring forward to the board this evening and in looking to accomplish what I had wanted to do, I think that the time tonight would be better spent on other agenda items,” Trustee Judy Bullockus said at the beginning of Wednesday’s school board meeting.
She didn’t specify what the misconception is before calling on her colleagues to table the resolution.
Throughout the pandemic, trustees have pressured state officials to reconsider masks and an expected classroom vaccine mandate.
Katie Crockett, a district parent, said she couldn’t believe the resolution on staffing needs was on the same agenda as a resolution calling for local decision making authority on COVID-19 protocols.
“You know what we won’t have once there’s a COVID vaccine mandate in our schools – the need for temporary staffing items like this,” she said.
During public comment at Wednesday’s meeting, some students called for greater precautions and shared concerns about the current protocols.
Some parents spoke out against mask requirements and an expected vaccine mandate while supporting the tabled local control resolution.
The proposed resolution on COVID-19 precautions states all health decisions are a person’s choice and that the board has a “substantial public interest” in protecting not only the health and safety of students and staff, but also their privacy and personal choices.
It also states that the district acknowledges traditional in-person learning provides the best academic and social-emotional outcomes for students.
“We have seen first-hand the growing mental health crisis among children and must in all decisions weigh the need for normalcy, acknowledging our responsibility to protect not only the physical, but also the social, emotional and mental health of our students,” the resolution reads.
Meanwhile, COVID dashboards at public schools are showing cases soaring with some local districts reporting over a thousand cases at the end of last week.
[Read: Parents Across Orange County Keep Tense Watch as School COVID Dashboards Soar]
The Capistrano Unified School District’s dashboard showed 1,573 confirmed COVID cases out of 45,652 staff and students on Wednesday morning.
Teachers and parents across the county are questioning the accuracy of district dashboards, saying the numbers on school’s public websites don’t often match up with the emptiness of the classrooms.
As virus cases increase at schools, districts throughout OC and across the country are facing staff shortages as teachers and workers fall ill to the virus or quarantine at home after testing positive.
Some OC teachers have told the Voice of OC they are tired, overworked and overwhelmed by having to fill in for missing staff and question the sustainability of carrying on like this amid the surge.
Heated debates throughout Orange County have been happening at local schools boards about what pandemic precautions schools should be taking.
Droves of parents have been showing up to local district board meetings across the county to speak out against masks and an expected vaccine mandate Newsom announced last year.
They have expressed worries about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for kids and the lack of research on the long term impacts of the vaccine.
Some parents have even threatened to pull their kids out of school if the vaccine mandate goes into effect.
Other parents said masks and vaccines are some of the tools needed to keep the classrooms open.
At the same time, state and local health experts have been trying to address parental concerns of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for kids and argue COVID itself presents a bigger risk than the virus.
[Read: Debates Over the COVID-19 Student Vaccine Mandate Flare Up at OC School Districts]
The fourth wave also spurred a new debate around keeping classrooms open or temporarily switching to online teaching.
[Read: Classroom or Online Learning? Orange County Debates How to Teach Students During Omicron Spike]
Newsom and state legislators have repeatedly said online learning isn’t going to be an option.
Instead, state officials are trying to get more virus tests and masks to school districts throughout the state.
The Orange County Department of Education will start handing out N95 masks to school districts and charter schools, according to a Wednesday news release.
“Initially characterized as a 10-day supply, the inventory of N95 masks represents less than 25 percent of what has been committed by the state. Nevertheless, the masks on hand are being made available to school districts and charter schools across the county to pick up and distribute to their students and staff,” reads the news release.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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