high rates of staff and student absenteeism in local schools

Palm Springs Unified and Coachella Valley Unified resumed classes Monday after returning from winter vacation, but about 20% of students were absent Tuesday amid the latest omicron variant outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

“We have about 20 percent absentee students today, which is significantly higher than average,” Palm Springs Unified spokeswoman Joan Boiko said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Coachella Valley Unified reported 3,391 student absences on Tuesday — also 20% of the student body, according to Coachella Valley Unified spokeswoman Lissette Santiago.

Absences extend to staff

Santiago added that 18% of Coachella Valley Unified employees were absent on Tuesday.

Desert Sands Unified resumed session on January 3. Since then, the number of COVID-19 cases has exploded. 23.9% of students were absent on Tuesday, Joe Hyde, assistant superintendent of personnel resources, said Wednesday.

Hyde pointed out that not all absences are related to COVID-19, but attendance numbers are exceptionally low.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the district reported 1,483 student cases and 203 staff cases.

Indio High School, which has about 2,000 students enrolled, alone reported 105 positive student cases and six staff cases. La Quinta High had 119 active student cases and 14 on staff.

Ronald Reagan Elementary in Palm Desert serves fewer than 1,000 students, but 65 students are reporting active cases of COVID-19, and 28 staff members who work at the La Quinta district office also have active cases.

Districtwide, 210 teachers were absent Tuesday — 17% of the district’s total number of teachers, according to Hyde.

That’s more than four times as many teacher absences the district faced on a typical Tuesday during the 2018-19 school year (before the COVID-19 pandemic), Hyde said.

On Wednesday, 227 teachers were absent and 251 of 1,407 classified employees (non-teaching) were also absent.

Due to staffing shortages, non-teaching administrators and graduate employees stepped in to replace teaching in some cases, but even this effort did not fill the staffing gap.

Some classes had to be merged with teachers supervising two classes of students.

Hyde said merging classes is a last resort and that “generally when students in uncovered classes are split, they are assigned to another class at the same level, where possible.”

For its part, Palm Springs Unified is also facing a staffing shortage, Superintendent Mike Swize said at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“Fortunately, in the last few days we have been able to manage all our teacher absences, absences in nutrition services or with maintenance and operations, but this is something that we are monitoring very, very closely,” Swize said.

As of Tuesday evening, Palm Springs Unified was reporting just 32 active cases of COVID-19 among students and 40 among staff. However, Swize pointed out that the school district only reports positive people who have been on campus in the previous 14 days and that the recent winter break was longer than that.

He acknowledged that it is possible that many more students and staff will test positive but have not been to school.

“While we were closed for the break, we had a few cases among our students and staff…And they weren’t on our school sites, so we didn’t report them on our dashboard,” said Swize. “But every day we see an increasing number of staff and students testing positive.”

Swize said the district may soon implement shorter quarantines for asymptomatic staff if state and county public health guidelines change.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended isolation period for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive people to five days followed by five days of mask-wearing.

Swize said Tuesday, “This recommendation has not reached grade level in California, Riverside County and Palm Springs Unified.”

However, he said district officials are working with Riverside County Public Health to consider revised quarantine guidelines that will help address staffing shortages caused by potential exposure to the virus and bring some students back to campus longer. early too.

“We will be looking to modify our district procedures in a very safe way, but this follows Riverside County Public Health guidelines. This should help us bring staff and students back more quickly,” Swize said.

Newsom signs executive order to address staffing shortages

Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday afternoon signed an executive order intended to help ease school staffing shortages amid the spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

The order — which expires March 31 — will lower state barriers that delay the hiring of short-term substitute teachers. It will also allow short-term replacements to have their assignments extended and remove additional barriers that prevent retired teachers from returning.

The order builds on a previous executive order Newsom signed in August 2021 that allowed recently retired teachers to return as substitutes without waiting six months after retirement, as was previously required.

Following:School absences are on the rise – among teachers. Where are the replacements?

Additionally, the 2021-22 state budget includes $2.9 billion to hire more teachers and classified staff and strengthen teacher training.

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at jonathan.horwitz@desertsun.com or @Writes_Jonathan.