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Arizona teacher shortage getting worse with COVID-19

Teachers and education officials said they're seeing more teachers having to call in sick because of COVID cases in their family, or with them personally.

PHOENIX — Arizona's already lean roster of teachers is feeling an additional squeeze as COVID infections take even more out of the classroom.

Teachers and education officials said they're seeing more teachers having to call in sick because of COVID cases in their family, or with them personally.

“Every morning we get an email saying, we need your help," teacher Brad Charles said. "Six unfilled (classes) was this morning, sometimes it's nine.”

Arizona, which is ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay, has perennially struggled with a shortage of teachers. More than 750 teaching positions are currently being filled by long-term substitutes, according to a survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. As of October 2021, there are 1,700 open teaching positions statewide.

"But we need to make sure that we're understanding that this virus seems to be spreading really, really fast right now," Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said. 

Thomas said there doesn't appear to be a break soon, as the omicron variant is surging across the country. He said it may require shutting schools down again. 

"That may require for just a few days or a very temporary time stepping back either partly or wholly into a remote learning," Thomas said. "We don't want to have to do that. But we have to have that as an option because that may allow us to move back to in-person instruction."

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