Teachers, students absent amid COVID surge; district struggles to fill vacancies

As the Long Beach Unified School District’s approximately 69,000 students and 3,400 teachers were returning to campus this week amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, thousands of students and teachers weren’t present—and it’s been difficult for the district to fill vacancies.

On Monday, the LBUSD had 369 requests for a substitute teacher, a little more than triple what they’d normally get on the Monday after winter break, according to LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou. That elevated number has strained the district’s substitute pool and has put head office administrators back in the classroom to try and make sure that there are no unfilled vacancies.

Lakewood High alone had more than 20 teachers out on Monday and some schools had to shuffle in administrative personnel to cover double-digit unfilled classroom vacancies on Wednesday.

“Classrooms have been covered mostly by substitutes, but also by some other certificated staff such as administrators,” Eftychiou said.

The vast majority of parents are still sending their kids to school this week, but there has been a dip in student attendance as well. Eftychiou said that district-wide attendance during non-pandemic times is usually around 95%. This week on Monday, 87.9% of high schoolers were in class, 85.7% of middle schoolers, and 78.4% of elementary schoolers were in class.

The absences among teachers and students are likely caused by a mix of positive tests necessitating quarantine, and hesitation in coming to campus during a time of surging cases.

“We are getting calls about widespread absences,” said Teachers Association of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Callopy. “Lots of illnesses. Or exposures needing to test but no testing availability.”

Callopy acknowledged some teachers were likely using stored sick/vacation time to try to wait out the surge but said he doesn’t think that’s the case with most of the absences.

“The sense I’m getting is either people are legitimately sick or they have a household member who is sick and they can’t find a test.”

Testing availability is a sore spot for the district and others around the state. California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to provide at-home rapid tests to the state’s students and educators before the end of winter break, something that did not happen. California Superintendent Tony Thurmond called the broken promise “disappointing” on Wednesday.

The district confirmed it has not yet received the promised at-home tests from the state, and says the LBUSD “will distribute the tests when they are received.”

Event regulations tightened

The LBUSD also announced tighter regulations for on-campus events on Wednesday.

Attendance for indoor sporting events and other performances will be capped at 25%, and some large indoor events are being postponed until after Jan. 28.

Those postponements include an upcoming Wilson dance show, which has been rescheduled for February, and the long-running Long Beach Poly senior talent show Mr. and Ms. Jackrabbit Pageant has been postponed as well.

Field trips and overnight trips are canceled until Jan. 28 and the district will also cancel its kindergarten festival, which had been scheduled for Saturday.

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