Bay Area school districts scramble to fill hundreds of positions as omicron surges across state

School districts across the Bay Area are feeling the staffing crunch fueled by a surge in COVID-19, with more than 1,000 positions in Hillsborough County Schools needing to be filled Wednesday.

During a news conference, Superintendent Addison Davis said more than 600 employees were out for various reasons, including at least 130 who tested positive for COVID-19, as the omicron variant continues to spread throughout the community. An additional 400 positions are already unfilled due to an ongoing staffing shortage.

"Every day that a student doesn't have a high-quality teacher in front of them, it does impact him or her," Davis said.

The problem isn't just impacting teachers. District administrators are having to find people to fill in for all positions, including bus drivers and food service staff.

Davis said the response will be a combination of finding substitutes and full-time staff with open periods or combining classes, if necessary.

"It's taxing on our teachers when they have to cover classrooms and they have to give up their planning period, which we compensate them to do," said Davis.

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Davis said the district was able to cover about 80 percent of the jobs Tuesday, when there were more than 900 positions to fill, including about 500 who called out.

According to Davis, pre-pandemic, the district typically dealt with between 600 and 900 open positions a day. During the peak of the delta wave last year, there were more than 2,000 employees out at times.

Davis said the district has no plans to close schools, which Gov. DeSantis has said is not an option.

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Meanwhile, strict leaders in Manatee County are also preparing for staff to potentially be out in large numbers, as students return to school Thursday.

"Many times the school administration staff who you know, have teaching degrees and licenses will step in," said Kevin Chapman, Manatee Schools' Chief of Staff.

The Manatee County Health Department also opened a COVID testing site for students and staff a John Marble Park in Bradenton. This is the same site that was temporarily set up during the delta wave, before shutting down as cases subsided.

"Every time there's one of these surges or a school year ends. We definitely examine what went right, what went wrong and figure out ways to improve," Chapman said.

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