Dozens of Texas school districts shut down due to staff shortages linked to omicron surge

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Staff shortages are leading to school closures across the state as omicron continues to drive case counts up.

Nancy Thompson, a mom of three, said she started keeping track after she noticed parents from all over Texas posting in her Facebook group, Mothers Against Greg Abbott.

“It’s encompassing all of Texas. It isn’t just a handful of ISDs that are shut down. It’s actually 98 ISDs,” Thompson explained.

Since the time of that interview, at least three more districts announced closures. Now, education advocates are reigniting their calls for more local control.

“Allowing school districts to be able to implement procedures, like requiring masks in their campuses when they see a rise in cases, like having protocols to where we can have virtual learning in places where it is not safe to be in the school buildings,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said Friday.

Currently, the Texas Education Agency allows schools to offer remote learning for students who test positive or have a close contact for up to 20 days. There’s not a framework for virtual learning for when staff test positive, though.

The reason these rules were put in place was the “COVID slide,” when months of virtual learning took a toll on students everywhere. Still, advocates said remote learning should be a short-term option in emergencies like this.

“We know that the best learning environment for students is to be face to face where we build a relationships, but what if our educators are not healthy enough to be coming into work?” Molina said.

The TEA also advised school districts ahead of this school year to build extra days into their calendars for scenarios like we’re seeing now. In a statement, the agency said it’s monitoring the current situation closely.

“Our agency is in regular contact with school system leaders across Texas, and supporting the needs of districts that are reporting challenges due to the Omicron surge; this includes exploring policies that will provide schools with additional assistance,” the statement continued.

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