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Teacher shortages, competition for substitutes evidence of a COVID curve far from 'flattened'

'The Omicron variant is really presenting a challenge for the district right now,' said Asheley Brown with Little Elm ISD, one of many searching for substitutes.

DALLAS — Multiple North Texas school districts are going to great lengths to hire additional staff but, at the same time, are finding that the supply of available substitute teachers is impacted by COVID-19, as well.

"We are imploring you guys," Little Elm ISD Human Resources executive Asheley Brown said in a recent hiring appeal posted by the district on YouTube. "We would love for you to come and join us, even if it's just temporarily."

Little Elm ISD, which says it has received 15 new applicants since the video was first posted, is seeking as many as 200 to fill teacher and staff shortages.

"The Omicron variant is really presenting a challenge for the district right now," Brown continued. "You're looking at a super increased demand of substitutes and a super decreased supply of substitutes. And that's what's causing some districts to have to close."

And competition is fierce. Richardson ISD, through its website, is asking parents and community members to consider becoming campus volunteers. Garland ISD, starting Jan. 25, will hold weekly virtual job fairs. The district says that aspiring teachers can join them virtually from 4-6 p.m. every Tuesday to speak directly with district recruiters and select campus administrators. DeSoto ISD  and Arlington ISD will also be holding job fairs next week.

Alyssa Gilmore is an example of that dire need. She is a substitute and student-teacher at Arlington ISD while also still enrolled at UT Arlington studying early childhood education.

"There is definitely a need for subs and not enough subs to go around," Gilmore said. "Kids are grateful having someone in the classroom willing to teach them and to be with them, and teachers and staff are so incredibly grateful that you're able to be there because it is so tough right now." 

But in the middle of all of this, with school districts and private businesses showing ready evidence of the Omicron impact on absenteeism, some recent headlines have suggested that the COVID/Omicron spike might be flattening in Texas. Dr. Mark Casanova with the UTSW COVID Task Force wanted to address that rumor head on.

"You know, just the physician in me wants to say, 'whoa, whoa, whoa, not quite,'" he said in a Tuesday Zoom interview with WFAA. "We're just seeing a steady stream of patients coming in. It is human nature for us to desire and want this stuff to be over with and to move on with it. And if we do a celebratory dance too early, then we run the risk of regressing and taking two steps back."

"We are seeing some indicators that are suggestive that we may be nearing our peak, but by no means are we beyond our peak or have we flattened the curve," Casanova cautioned.

Credit: Texas Department of State Health Services

So, competition for substitutes and volunteers is expected to remain yet one more COVID indicator that its impact on the workforce is far from flattened.

The most recent report issued by the UTSW COVID Task Force predicts that "the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Dallas has exceeded all prior peaks, and hospitalizations across North Texas are near record levels. Hospitalizations in Dallas and Tarrant Counties are projected to continue to increase in the near term, putting a severe strain on local health systems" and that "levels of local transmission are the highest seen since the beginning of the pandemic and still increasing."

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