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Omicron wave plagues North Texas school districts with teacher shortage

 Kids walk past a sign at Lakewood Elementary that states "Welcome Back, Stalions!" as they return to in-person learning in 2022 as the Omicron variant surges.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
Kids return to in-person learning on January 2022 as the omicron variant surges.

School districts and educators across the region say there are higher rates of teachers calling in sick.

School districts in North Texas are seeing a shortage of teachers as many are calling in sick due to the uptick in omicron cases.

Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said the shortage is a pattern across the state and isn’t limited to teachers.

“We are seeing school districts try to pick up and encourage people — parents even — to volunteer to substitute. We have seen some school districts around the state that are not able to have bus routes for their students for a whole week, because they don't have enough bus drivers,” Molina said.

Molina said the current shortage is comparable to the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Independent School District has been seeing more teachers out sick since classes resumed last week.

“We definitely have seen an increase in the number of teachers who are going to be out and requiring a substitute,” said Robert Abel with Human Resources at DISD. “The first week we came back last week from break, we definitely had some of our highest rates.”

During the first school week of 2022, Abel said there were an average of up to 230 teachers out sick for reasons related to the omicron variant.

Abel said the district began incentivizing substitute teachers with a pay increase in December for both degreed and non-degreed substitutes. Last week, the district implemented an additional $50 daily pay increase for substitutes.

Molina said the substitute teacher shortage is just another consequence of the lack of a swift response by the state.

“There is no plan to say what are we going to do when we have cases that are on the rise so fast that we need to ensure a classroom or a district is safe by the state,” she said. “Our local school districts are having to figure out where they can come up with programs and funding [and] move things around to be able to take up the slack.”

In a previous version of this story, Ovidia Molina's last name was misspelled. The story has been corrected.

Got a tip? Email Pablo Arauz Peña at parauzpena@kera.org

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