(NewsNation Now) — It’s an issue being seen across the country: school staffing shortages, which have been a problem for years, being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One California school is bringing in parents to help fill the void. The Palo Alto Unified School District recently asked parents to help out with janitorial duties, administering COVID-19 tests, filling in on the lunch line as cafeteria workers and more in light of what the school district said on its website is “the latest COVID-19 surge.”
Charu Gupta, a parent at Palo Alto School District, said parents across the district are rearranging their work schedules so that they can be available to the schools and do whatever is needed of them.
“We’re making the time because it’s such a big priority,” Gupta said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.” “We want to keep our kids in school. We know that where they learn the best.”
Many schools in America are having to do what they can with fewer employees, as the stress of teaching during COVID-19 caused a spike in educators retiring or resigning,
In a survey conducted by the National Education Association last year, 32 percent of respondents said the pandemic had caused them to plan to leave the profession earlier than they expected. Schools nationwide saw hundreds of teacher vacancies to start off the 2021-2022 school year, and substitutes are in short supply. Bus driver shortages have caused some schools to suspend bus service or even cancel class altogether, and openings for critical staff such as teachers’ aides, custodians and cafeteria workers have gone unfilled.
Although school districts have gotten billions in federal and state pandemic relief funding, allowing them to hire more people, a lot have found that people just aren’t applying to these positions.
But when it came time to volunteer, parents answered the Palo Alto School District’s call in large numbers, with the district receiving 360 replies in just 12 hours.
For Gupta, what enticed her to volunteer was seeing the shift in kids’ energy and enthusiasm when they went back to in-person learning after virtually learning for much of the pandemic.
“Kids are getting up, they’re getting out of bed, getting dressed and going to school. They’re not sitting in the spot all day long,” she said. “They’re learning better, they’re happier.”
Because of parent volunteerism, teachers and staff are now feeling supported, which Gupta said was their biggest goal.
“After a couple of years of us asking, ‘How can we help? How can we help?,’ we’re finally here. We’re at the table, we’re working together. We’re trying to do what’s best for our students,” Gupta said.
Even amid staffing challenges and the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, federal officials have stressed that they are committed to helping schools continue in-person learning.
The Biden administration, with the aim of promoting the safe reopening of schools, announced Wednesday that a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting in January.
Later this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to release new guidance to help schools implement “test-to-stay” policies, where schools can use rapid tests to keep close contact with those who test positive in the classroom.