The Culver City Unified School Board meeting of January 11, 2022 heard from concerned parents, concerned teachers, concerned staff and concerned administrators; no one involved with our public schools is taking anything for granted. Omicron overwhelm is omnipresent.
While things were just beginning to look daunting before the winter break, coming back this month has been challenging all resources at all levels.
Attending as both Linwood E. Howe and Farragut school nurse, Amy Thiel pleaded for more resources and more staff. “We need more school nurses and we need to be consulted first on health issues.” After the board dismissed several teachers for being unvaccinated, the nurses from several schools spoke to the level of crisis, noting that they had more work than they could handle before the Omicron COVID surge sent student testing into warp drive. “We have students with immediate needs, we have IEP (Individual Education Plan) screenings, we have vision and hearing testing, all required, and now we have a line out the door of students and families in need of COVID testing. COVID has taken all of our attention – we still have to do all the rest of it. The phone is ringing every ten seconds. We have to have more help.“
Thiel voiced the crisis for many, asking “Please grant us grace when needs go unmet. We really are doing everything we can.”
Contract tracing has increased exponentially every day that students have been back since Jan. 3, and while the nursing staff stretches to keep going, administration is also reaching out for resources that are not there.
Robert Quinn, assistant superintendent of business services, was sympathetic but unable to offer a solution. “We are not withholding funding for nursing…we are struggling to fill those positions. [There are no available RNs, ] we are trying to find LVN’s. We have some universities reaching out to offer interns to assist with contact tracing, and we are taking them up on it, but they are just now coming back from winter break, so we don’t have them yet. We have had a logistical issue. We are doing everything we can to get more nursing staff. It’s a miserable experience … right now.”
Superintendent Quoc Tran remained firm. “We are fully committed to an in person instruction program, and there are a great deal of safety measures in place. The plan is for providing masks to all teachers and students. We’d like to make sure that the first line of defense is the KN94 [mask] and we are also hoping to make them available for our families for home use.”
In response to parents noting the lack of substitute teachers, the problem was similar to the health care situation. It wasn’t that the district wasn’t looking to fill the positions; there is no one to hire.
Jose Alarcon, the assistant superintendent of human resources, offered “For a district this size, we have a baseline of 70 subs. We do not have enough substitute teachers right now. Omichron is causing not just our students but our teachers to stay home.”
“The daily count is also trending up; before winter break, we had 2 or 3 [unstaffed classes] a day. Now, 30 or 40 a day. We are hiring more subs, and we are working with another agency, but all the agencies I’ve spoken with are also having a hard time meeting their staffing levels.” Alarcon noted that administration was continuing daily outreach to try and find subs, and that administrators were also covering classes.
Nationally, COVID numbers are just beginning to drop; what was a 200% increase yesterday is only 185% increase today. It may be after spring break that campuses can begin to resume feeling normal.