Could New Covid Testing and Vaccine Mandates Worsen School Staff Shortages in California?

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Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / Polaris

Some California school district superintendents, especially those in rural areas of the state, fear teachers and other staff will drop out rather than be vaccinated or take weekly Covid tests – a state requirement that started on Friday.

Many California districts are already struggling to staff schools, and even a moderate number of resignations would mean not only fewer teachers, but fewer bus drivers, teaching aids, and substitute teachers to keep the schools running. schools.

Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts’ Association, said superintendents told him some of their employees threatened to quit their jobs because of the warrants.

“There are employees who will refuse to take the test and vaccination, which puts the school district in a situation where they would lose employees who would prefer not to give up their personal beliefs or who do not trust the government,” a- he declared.

Covid requirements will become even stricter this summer. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all students and employees in public and private schools must be vaccinated by July to be on campus. They will no longer be able to be tested as an alternative to a vaccine, unless they are eligible for medical or personal belief exemptions.

Opinions on terms of reference vary widely and depend largely on the policy of the school community. School districts in more conservative areas of the state report greater resistance to tests and vaccines than communities with more liberal residents.

“This conversation plays out very differently depending on what community you find yourself in,” Edgar Zazueta of the Association of California School Administrators said in its weekly legislative update last week.

Superintendents in some districts are concerned about the potential for declining enrollments and increasing staff shortages due to immunization mandates, Zazueta said. On the flip side, he said the state mandate gives school districts like Los Angeles Unified that have instituted local immunization mandates some coverage in terms of defending against legal challenges.

In the Modoc Joint Unified School District in Alturas, 31 teachers and other school staff are considering resigning because they do not want to take the Covid test or be vaccinated, Taylor said.

In a small neighborhood like Modoc Joint Unified, which has 857 students, a loss of nearly half of its employees could force it to close, Taylor said.

“We never got to these crossroads,” Taylor said. “What if you can’t staff your schools? I don’t know what the answer is.

Schools in many rural areas are already grappling with staff shortages, which have been exacerbated this school year by high Covid infection rates and mandatory quarantines, leaving classrooms without teachers.

While there is more resistance to warrants in rural schools, even the state’s largest district – Los Angeles Unified – is struggling to get its staff vaccinated. The district, which adopted its own immunization mandate for staff and students in September, recently moved the deadline for all staff to be fully immunized from October 15 to November 15.

At a school board meeting on September 28, district officials announced that only 1 in 5 employees had submitted proof of vaccination, according to the Los Angeles Times. The district is trying to encourage vaccinations by holding vaccination clinics on campuses, allowing staff up to three hours of paid time off to get vaccinated, and holding information meetings for employees.

Acting Superintendent Megan Reilly has said vaccines are the best way to keep children in school.

“Vaccines are a game changer for all of us,” she said in August. “They help reduce the chances of getting drastically ill and dying from the virus. We can and will protect our school communities by continuing to immunize employees and all eligible students. “

Culver City Unified, West Contra Costa Unified, Oakland Unified, Piedmont Unified, San Diego Unified and, this week, Sacramento City Unified school boards also voted to establish vaccine mandates for eligible students and staff that will begin before state mandate.

The state’s tenure is expected to begin Jan. 1 or July 1, depending on when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves shooting for children in each grade – Seven-12 and K-six. Only the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for ages 16 and over. The Pfizer vaccine also has emergency clearance for use in children aged 12 to 16 years.

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar called the district’s immunization mandate “a bold stance to protect public health,” but warned the school board on Tuesday that the requirement could increase staff shortages in the district. district as students who do not want to be vaccinated move on to study independence.

“Our independent study program is already called into question under the current circumstances,” he said in a statement. “A statewide staff shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and Sac City Unified, like most districts in the state, is struggling to fill positions, so we can respond to the need. current demand for independent studies. “

The school board voted to require all eligible students and staff to show proof of vaccination, either the first or second dose, by November 30.

At San Diego Unified, school staff have until Dec. 20 to receive both doses of the vaccine. This gives them two weeks during the winter break to gain full immunity, said Andrew Sharp, a spokesperson for the district.

Sharp said it was too early to know whether the state’s immunization mandate would affect staff levels in the district. Currently, the district requires staff to be vaccinated or tested for Covid-19. The human resources department has not seen an exodus of staff as a result, he said.

District immunization mandates are unlikely to be in rural districts, where more community residents are opposed to vaccines. Staff shortages are already severe in some of these districts, and school officials are concerned about filling positions if more staff leave.

Sherri Morgan, executive director of Long Valley Charter School in the conservative small town of Doyle in Lassen County, said it was difficult to find employees even in the best of circumstances.

“Do you know where Doyle is?” ” she asked. “There is nothing 40 miles north of Reno. It is literally in the middle of nowhere.

Every staff member at Long Valley Charter School has indicated their willingness to take the Covid test, Morgan said. But she is worried about what will happen when the option to test is removed and the vaccine is mandatory.

“In January, if they say they need to be vaccinated, I don’t know how I’m going to stay open,” she said.

The district, which serves 230 students, already has counselors and other accredited classroom staff to replace teachers every day of the week, she said.

Morgan is particularly worried about what will happen if state lawmakers remove the option of personal exemptions.

“I’m not kidding you on that,” Morgan said. “I thought about bringing in candidates from abroad. I was close when the Covid restrictions first surfaced. “

Lynn Pennock, an employee of the Temecula Valley Unified School District in Riverside County, expressed her dissatisfaction with the governor’s most recent vaccination mandate at a school board meeting on October 5.

“I am completely happy to take the test, preferably the pin test. I don’t want something in my nose, ”said Pennock, who said she had never had Covid, although three people in her family have contracted the virus. “I will take it every week without taking this vaccine. I don’t feel the need to get the vaccine. So you know what it is honestly is extortion. It is no longer a choice. You impose something and that is extortion.

In Clovis Unified, a neighborhood of nearly 43,000 Fresno County students, opposition to Covid’s security protocols has been fierce.

Barry Jager, associate superintendent of human resources and employee relations at Clovis Unified, said the district is trying to accommodate staff who are reluctant to take the mandatory Covid test by offering both nasal swab and saliva testing less invasive.

The district lacks teaching aids, bus drivers and substitute teachers, he said. Bus mechanics and district transportation managers are doubling down as bus drivers, and human resources staff are struggling to hire enough replacements.

He expects the mandates – especially the mandate on vaccines next year – to make it difficult to retain staff.

Officials of the Konocti Unified School District struggle every year to find enough teachers and other staff for their schools. Deputy Superintendent Chris Schoeneman is confident the immunization mandates will exacerbate staff shortages in the district, which serves more than 3,700 students in rural Lake County.

Schoeneman supports the vaccine’s mandate but understands that not everyone shares his beliefs.

“I see us losing good people who firmly believe that they should never be mandated by the government for something like this,” he said. “Their reasons can be political, health related, religious, etc., so there is a lot for people to consider and respect. … But at the end of the day, it looks like you’ll need to be vaccinated if you want to work in education in California.

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