California makes it easier to hire teachers amid shortages

California is making it easier for school districts to hire teachers and other employees amid staffing shortages brought on by the latest surge in coronavirus cases, the governor said Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has signed an executive order to allow schools more flexibility in staffing decisions like giving additional hours to substitute teachers and rehiring recent retirees for short stints. The order expires at the end of March.

“These are short-term challenges that require short-term and targeted solutions,” said Newsom

The fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is sidelining school personnel statewide a week after 6 million K-12 students returned to classrooms following winter break.

In Long Beach, nearly 500 of the Long Beach Unified School District’s 3,400 teachers weren’t in class Monday. Many were sick or awaiting COVID test results, according to the local teachers’ union.

Newsom said he hopes to expedite a hiring process that’s typically time-consuming and allow school districts “to keep our kids safely in person for the remainder of the year and get through this next three to six or so weeks.”

Long Beach Unified said Monday that it had no plans to suspend in-person learning even though it’s had to use administrative staff to cover classrooms in some cases.

The California Teachers Association, which represents some 300,000 educators statewide, said it recognizes the need for hiring flexibility and urges school districts “to focus on substitute teachers, recent retirees and student teachers.”

“The executive order is by no means the answer to long-term staffing shortages, and we look forward to working with the governor, lawmakers and the education community in rebuilding our educator pipeline, which has been devastated by this pandemic,” association spokesperson Lisa Gardiner said in a statement Tuesday.

Newsom also said the state was working on getting more COVID-19 tests to schools. Last week Newsom and state officials faced criticism for failing to deliver on a promise to provide rapid, at-home tests to all California students and school staff before classrooms reopened after the break.

Millions of test kits were sent to families but millions more were not, and there have been long lines at testing sites. As of Monday, the LBUSD said it was still waiting to receive tests from the state.

Newsom announced the executive order during a stop Tuesday at a medical clinic in Kern County where he highlighted his proposal to expand healthcare for all Californians, regardless of immigration status.

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