Colleges in Houston could also be on account of COVID. nonetheless not hiring sufficient academics and workers

Some school districts in the Houston area have seen more vacancies and substitute teaching difficulties this school year, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing national teacher shortage has been compounded by teacher health concerns and frustration over the counties’ COVID responses. Some say the problem in Texas is a lack of government guidance and funding for paid vacation for employees who miss their jobs due to exposure to the virus.

Katy ISD, for example, had more than 500 open positions on Wednesday, 21 days after the district welcomed students back to campus for the 2021-22 school year. 146 of these were teaching positions.

It is not alone.

Santa Fe ISD has seen a surge in job vacancies and layoffs in several areas, including food service, transportation and security guards, spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said.

Goose Creek CISD had 279 jobs to fill Wednesday, including 51 hospitality jobs, 30 transport workers, 26 security guards and more than 20 special education positions open.

“These positions are harder to fill because of COVID,” said spokeswoman Kristyn Cathey.

National surveys suggest that a growing number of educators and school staff are keen to quit their jobs due to support and pay arrears, which will lead to a shortage of qualified applicants in the years to come.

Of the 2,690 teachers surveyed by the National Education Association in June, 32 percent said the pandemic caused them to quit their jobs earlier than intended. A study by RAND Corporation, also published in June, found that nearly one in four teachers could quit their jobs by the end of that school year.

Almost a month into the school year, Fort Bend ISD is trying to hire 102 additional full-time teachers, 135 bus drivers and 35 food workers, among other things, spokeswoman Sherry Williams said.

Vacancies at Alief ISD fluctuate daily, said spokesman Craig Eichhorn, but by the end of August there were 101 vacancies in professional campus positions, including 95 apprenticeships. Most of the vacancies in the 46 locations in the district are in the bilingual and special education sectors; the remainder are nurses and librarians.

The Houston ISD announced last month that it would move more than 250 authorized administrators into the classroom to ensure the school year begins with a certified teacher in all of the district’s core subjects.

Other districts, including Waller and Barbers Hill ISDs, are reporting few vacancies this school year or seeing vacancies at the level of non-pandemic years.

Finding sufficient replacement teachers is also more difficult than usual for some districts, including some with few vacancies.

Santa Fe ISD, for example, had about half of its replacement requests so far this year, prompting school boards to approve a pay raise to “help recruit and stay competitive with neighboring counties,” Hanssard said.

“Since then, we’ve had limited professional development on campus and across the county during the rest of September for the remainder of September, and our apprenticeship rate has increased by at least 35 percent,” she added.

On Wednesday, Conroe ISD had a total of 158 vacant replacement positions in the district, according to the school system’s online COVID dashboard.

Clear Creek ISD averaged 76 percent of replacement requests, compared to a typical average of 95 percent.

“We are having trouble keeping substitutes because of their individual health concerns,” said spokeswoman Elaina Polsen.

To make matters worse, for some, is the lack of paid time off for employees who miss their jobs due to exposure to the virus.

“This is an emergency,” said Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, a union that represents educators. “If districts really want to encourage everyone to do the right thing and quarantine themselves when necessary, we shouldn’t punish them financially.”

COVID numbers have risen steadily in Texas schools, with the number of infected students nearly doubling in a week by August 29.

The loss of salary to meet the district’s quarantine requirements is devastating for many auxiliaries such as canteen workers and bus drivers, said Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT, a union that represents school workers in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. The district requires employees to use their regular vacation for COVID-related absences.

“The workers are reaching me in despair because they are already living from paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “It’s causing chaos and turmoil because they can’t afford it. They may not be able to put food on the table or rent because they need to be isolated for 10 days. “

The Texas Education Agency said in a July statement that federal law gives districts “exclusive power to make vacation decisions.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, which required employers to offer paid sick leave as well as extended family and sick leave, expired on December 31, 2020. The American Rescue Plan Act 2021 only extends paid emergency sick leave until September 30th.

Districts in the Houston area have adopted different policies.

At Barbers Hill ISD, employees regularly have to be on sick leave if they have to miss work due to COVID-related reasons.

“If they exceed their allotted vacation days, they will be docked accordingly,” said spokeswoman Jami Navarre.

The Board of Trustees of Waller ISD has decided to grant employees five COVID vacation days, which can be used if employees have symptoms of the virus, are exposed to it or need to care for an immediate family member.

Crosby ISD offers up to five days vacation for the virus, but only for employees with positive COVID tests. The district only grants special leave for half of an employee’s absence.

At Galena Park ISD, employees can take up to 8 days of paid vacation for “certain reasons related to positive COVID-19 results,” said Sherrhonda Hunter, the district executive director for school and community relations.

Full-time workers at the ISD in Santa Fe can get up to 10 days of COVID vacation if they provide the administrators with evidence of their positive test results.

“If an employee has to be quarantined or around a family member who has tested positive for COVID-19 or personally quarantined, (she) has to use his own personal vacation time,” said Hanssard. “We don’t offer a virtual opportunity for employees to work from home.”

Due to the virus, employees at Spring ISD have to use their normal vacation allowance to take time out. However, if the employee has a positive COVID test, the district will credit up to five days of vacation. If employees have to be absent for more than five working days due to illness, they must present a medical certificate to their superiors.

Houston ISD grants employees who are fully vaccinated or are medically unable to receive the vaccination up to 10 days of paid vacation time for COVID-related absences. Those who do not want to be vaccinated must use their personal vacation to isolate themselves.

According to Cowart, if districts want to retain staff they need during the pandemic, local school authorities will need to find a way to pay for staff COVID vacation for up to 10 days, as was previously the case with federal relief funds.

Robison said with the upcoming September 20th special session he hoped state lawmakers would fund the districts for this.

hannah.dellinger@chron.com

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