Thousands of teachers absent across Pima County due to COVID-19

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 7:00 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Happening now – teachers are spread thin as schools face a staffing shortage due to COVID-19.

This week, thousands of teachers were absent across Pima County schools. Schools have only been back in session for a few weeks after the holiday break, and school officials are doing what they can to keep students in the classroom.

″It’s ripping through our schools at a very fast pace. We’re holding on as much as we can to make sure we can give the best education possible, but it’s very challenging for everyone right now,” Superintendent of Pima County schools, Dustin Williams said.

It’s been especially hard on teachers. The omicron variant is spreading quickly across the county and in classrooms.

Southern Arizona’s largest school district, Tucson Unified saw more than 1,500 teacher absences this week, including 421 Friday.

Amphitheater schools have around 790 full-time teachers. This week, they had 485 absences with 129 Friday.

128 teachers at Marana Unified were absent this week. MUSD also tells KOLD 6,655 students were absent this week. That’s more than half of their student population.

“As far as absentees in teachers and staff in general, 100%, we’ve never seen anything like this,” Williams said.

The staffing shortage is forcing schools to look at other options to keep students in the classroom.

“What we’re asking is a lot on the staff members. So, if a staff has a planning period, a lot of times the administration will ask that teacher to take their planning period and cover a class. Office staff members we’ve heard are in. counselors are in. it’s all hands on deck,” he said.

Superintendent Williams says this is putting a lot of extra pressure on the staff and it’s not sustainable. Schools are considering their options on a day to day basis to decide if they need to shift to remote learning.

“We’ve just got to do everything we possibly can to maintain the school and the safety of the kids. If that means going remote, and the school can do that, I’m definitely in favor for that,” Williams added.

Schools are working closely with the county health department, but it is up to the schools to decide if they will close.

In a statement, the county health departments says, “The Pima County Health Department works closely with the school districts to help the schools and elected school boards make their own decisions about the operations of their districts and schools. Decisions about school and classroom closure are complex and have to take into account additional factors beyond public health considerations, including, but certainly not limited to, staffing. PCHD is always available to consult and provide data-driven guidance when schools are considering closures.”

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