Schools turn to parents for help as omicron surge causes staff shortages

One district seeks over 281 volunteers because of COVID shortages.

January 11, 2022, 4:10 PM

School staffing shortages caused by the recent COVID-19 omicron surge have gotten so bad in at least two school districts that officials are turning to parents to keep classes going.

The Palo Alto Unified School District in Palo Alto, California, made a plea amid its staffing shortage on Sunday when Superintendent Don Austin posted a video on the district's website announcing the "1 Palo Alto" initiative and asked parents to volunteer and work certain roles in the schools including food services, light custodial work, office assistance and classroom support.

"We can't keep up, there is no labor pool. No amount of money can solve this issue. We need your help," he said in the video.

Students sit in the classroom in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 11, 2022.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

Volunteers needed to be vaccinated and were subject to testing, Austin said. High school students who have free time in their schedule were also eligible to participate in the program.

Austin told ABC News that 659 volunteers have signed up for the program.

"This is the most exciting thing I’ve seen in a while," he told ABC News.

Shailo Rao, a parent of two children in the Palo Alto district, told ABC San Francisco affiliate KGO that he volunteered because he didn't want students to miss out on in-person learning.

"I mean, we talk about essential services and somewhere along the way, schools got lost," Rao told KGO.

Austin said the program would run until the current surge in cases decreases and staffing is at higher levels. He didn't immediately provide more details to ABC News about the volunteers' duties.

The situation is different in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District, located southwest of Austin, Texas.

Tim Savoy, a spokesman for Hays CISD, told ABC News that the district sent out emails to parents and a call on social media for more substitute teachers, even if they don't have college training.

"The parents would still have to apply, pass the fingerprint criminal background check, and do the orientation. However, if the principal knows them and recommends them, we can waive the requirement that they have at least 30 college hours," Savoy told ABC News.

Students sit at a classroom in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 11, 2022.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

Normally, the Hays CISD would have a pool of 500 substitute teachers available, but because of the delta variant, the district started the school year with only 100, Savoy said. The pool increased to 300, however the omicron variant has made the demand for substitutes increase, according to Savoy.

"Today, we had 292 requests for subs," Savoy said Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, three parents have signed up to be substitutes, but Savoy said that other school staff members have stepped in to assist with classes.

"Though it’s challenging to have the increased teacher absences; it’s a sign that people who have either tested positive, are showing symptoms, or who have had close contact, are heeding the call to quarantine," he said in a statement.

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