ARIZONA NEWS

Tempe teacher: ‘We’re struggling to cover classes’ because of COVID

Jan 6, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 5:53 am
(Photo by Kenny Holston/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Kenny Holston/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kenny Holston/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — As students and staff head back to school following winter break, a Valley teacher describes the struggle to find personnel to cover classrooms.

Beth Lewis is a fifth grade teacher in the Tempe Elementary School District. She told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday that physical education teachers, special education teachers and even aids are having to go inside classrooms because so many teachers are out due to COVID-19.

“We’re struggling to cover classes,” she said. “It’s a skeleton crew in every school that I’m talking to.”

This comes as the omicron surge of the virus continues throughout Arizona.

On Wednesday, the state reported more than 7,000 new COVID cases for the sixth time in the last seven days. Data by the state health department also showed the number of hospitalizations due to COVID at Arizona hospitals also surged by nearly 12% in the first four days of 2022.

Lewis, who’s also the director for the education advocacy group Save Our Schools, fears the number of classrooms that need to be covered will continue to grow.

“I’m on day three of returning to school,” she said. “We’re not even seeing the spike that could occur in January.”

Last month, Banner Health, which is the largest hospital system in Arizona, projected COVID hospitalizations will peak in mid-January.

Lewis stressed schools are trying their best to stay open.

Some school districts have started advising parents to be prepared for possible disruptions in the coming weeks.

The Madison School District told parents on Monday it doesn’t plan to return the entire district to remote or hybrid learning.

“However, it does mean that we will have to plan for classrooms that are not covered, bus routes that may be delayed or canceled and food services that may have challenges serving meals—all due to staff illness,” the district stated.

“We may need to use non-school personnel to cover classrooms and other areas essential to operating schools, including the use of parent volunteers.”

A new program Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday seeks to “provide relief for parents who may face financial and educational barriers” if their kids’ school closes “for even one day.” The program gives parents who meet the income requirements up to $7,000 to cover transportation, online tutoring and private school tuition.

Lewis is against the program. She said closing a school for a day may be necessary if classrooms can’t be covered.

“We don’t want to have 400 kids in a gym because the governor insisted that schools remain open and lobbied threats against us,” she said. “That’s not what parents want.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

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Tempe teacher: ‘We’re struggling to cover classes’ because of COVID