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South Florida Schools Scramble To Address Teacher Shortage Due To COVID-19

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the number of teachers calling in sick on Tuesday, after the Christmas break, dropped compared with Monday and he said he was hopeful the situation would improve by the end of the week.

CBS4's Peter D'Oench caught up with Carvalho after he returned to Miami Jackson Senior High School where he started his career in 1990 and where he was teaching a class in Environmental Science.

"Today, 1,700 teachers were out sick," said Carvalho. That compared with 2,110 teachers who were out sick on the Monday after the Christmas break and with 1,333 teachers who were out sick last year on the Monday after the Christmas break.

He said the problem was anticipated because of the contagious nature of the Omicron variant and the number of Christmas and New Year's Eve gatherings.

"I am also pleasantly surprised with drivers who are absolutely critical to our operation that only about 90 called in sick yesterday," he said.

"We have deployed individuals with educational certifications and we are talking about support staff, coaches, supervisors and administrators going into school to fill in the shoes of absent teachers. Every single student is receiving instruction, in some cases, it is less than ideal but every single student is appropriately supervised."

"I think as we progress through this week and we are going to analyze the data very quickly and we expect to see a significant decline in teacher absences," he said.

"We believe some are out with COVID and some are out because they need to supervise their children who were impacted by COVID themselves. We have contingency plans to mitigate if there are problems in the future."

He said he was not sure how many teachers had the Omicron variant. He said when teachers call in sick, they often declare that have COVID but "there is always some degree of variance."

He said, "I do believe the vast majority who are out there are either diagnosed with COVID, particularly Omicron or they have a relative with whom they had contact with who was diagnosed."

While teachers, staff, and all visitors are required to wear masks at Miami-Dade schools, students are not. But Carvalho said he was very impressed by the number of students wearing masks, saying they were listening to the school system's appeal that "Even if you do not believe in them for yourself you should be compassionate for your teachers and protect them. I think across the board they are heeding that advice."

Carvalho is shackled by a November 18th law that prevents school districts from requiring students to wear masks. But he said he believes that the law can be appealed because it goes against protecting the safety and security of students.

Karla Hernandez-Mats, the President of the United Teachers of Dade, said she is concerned about the current situation.

She told D'Oench, "We know that 12 percent of our teacher workforce was absent on Monday and we want them to care for themselves and we want to quarantine and isolate if they are COVID positive. But that leaves us very vulnerable in the educational system when we don't have enough staff. When we can't find enough substitutes, it is a chaotic situation. Yesterday, we had such a shortage that school districts deployed other personnel and administrators to cover classes to make sure they were covered. We heard of some schools that completely shut down their offices because they needed personnel to supervise children. We do know that they were struggling to get substitute teachers."

On Monday, Broward's Interim Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright told CBS4 that Broward had a substitute teacher crisis. A total of 1,650 of the county's 14,000 teachers called in sick on Monday compared to an average Monday after the Christmas break in which 1200 teachers usually call in sick.


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