Staffing shortages force schools into virtual learning

Students in multiple local school districts found themselves learning from home Friday as their schools went remote.

Officials in those districts say, while this all stems from a rise in COVID-19 cases, the issue runs much deeper.

“This is only dire circumstances that make this happen,” said Union Public Schools spokesperson Chris Payne.

But the circumstances were there Friday.

“It just was 100 percent necessary,” Payne said.

Schools in the Union, Broken Arrow and Tulsa Public School Districts, among others, had to move online.

“We just cannot operate without educators to support our students,” said Tasha Johnson, Director of Talent Management for Tulsa Public Schools.

Dozens of staff members across those districts called out sick—no doubt thanks to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant. But that’s not the sole reason their schools were empty.

“Really the reason we’ve had to do this is because of the staffing situation at schools,” Payne said.

Schools are understaffed and have been for a while now.

“I think the demand is probably three times the number of teachers that we’re producing,” he said.

Many schools simply don’t have enough staff to be able to open if even just a few get sick right now.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Johnson said. “Because the staffing shortage has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. The need for educators has been growing and growing every year.”

Now these districts are having to turn to alternatives.

“We desperately need our community to come in and help us sub and volunteer,” Johnson said.

At Union, they’re even looking to places like staff at churches to send help.

“Not saying they’d be there as a teacher, but they’d be there as an assistant and kind of help,” Payne said.

There’s not one fix, but these school administrators say we can’t keep going down the same road.

“It is difficult for people to come into the teaching force because of pay,” Johnson said. “We really would love to see the funding return to the level that would be necessary to support our teachers and our students and ensuring that our students get exactly what they need to be successful.”

As of Friday afternoon, the Union and Broken Arrow schools that went remote Friday planned to be back in-person on Monday.