Desperate Communities Appeal to Police, National Guard and Parents Amid Teacher Shortages
It diminishes the role of educators and compromises safety, critics say.
As the surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the omicron variant has upended staffing in school districts across the country, desperate state and local officials have sought to fill those gaps by bringing in police, National Guard members and even parents to help educate the nation’s youth.
These latest measures come two years after a health crisis that is putting incalculable pressure on the education sector. Parents and child advocates have sounded the alarm over the impact of the pandemic as school districts continue to shift from in-person to remote learning – with teachers and parents nearing the point a break.
Got Oklahoma. Earlier this week, Kevin Stitt issued an executive order to address the teacher shortage in his state, allowing all state employees to replace teaching without losing their job, salary or benefits.
“I have said from the beginning that our students deserve an in-person education and that our schools should remain open,” Stitt said in a statement. “The state has a responsibility to do what it can to achieve this, which is why I signed this executive order to help schools suffering from staff shortages.”
Shortly after Oklahoma’s executive order, footage shared on Facebook by the Moore City Police Department showed uniformed law enforcement officers serving as elementary school substitutes.
“Several duty officers are in the classroom this week as schools continue to face teacher and staff shortages,” the police department post said, adding that two officers were covering sixth-grade classes in a local school.
the Facebook post garnered more than 5,000 comments, including many from community members concerned about the presence of these officers in the classroom – especially amid heightened tensions nationwide between law enforcement and the community. The most sustained comment on the post, with nearly 3,000 likes, asked why substitute teachers are “uniformed and armed?”
Meanwhile, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday called on members of the National Guard in addition to state employees to “volunteer” as substitute teachers. A statement from his office says all volunteers “complete the same requirements as regular substitute teachers and child care workers,” which includes background checks and participation in an online teaching workshop.
“Our children, our teachers, and our parents deserve as much stability as we can give them in this time of uncertainty, and the state stands ready to help keep children in the classroom, parents able to go to work, and teachers able to focus fully on the essential work they do every day to educate the next generation,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
In neighboring Utah, an ABC affiliate KTVX reported that school districts are even asking parents to work as substitutes. A spokesperson for the Salt Lake School District said, “Anyone willing and able to fill in, we absolutely urge you to apply for it.” The spokesperson added that the standard background check process remains in place.
The desperate pleas for teachers have drawn skepticism and backlash from local parents and even lawmakers.
State Senator Carrie Hicks, a Democrat representing Oklahoma City, called her governor’s executive order “a short-sighted solution to the challenges our schools have faced for 22 months during a global pandemic.”
“We don’t have interchangeable rosters,” Hicks said in a statement. “The executive order shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. It diminishes teachers’ contributions and expertise in education, compromises the safety of our classrooms, and ignores the complexity of raising a child.”