Coronavirus worsens Arizona’s teacher shortage

PHOENIX — COVID-19 has worsened Arizona’s growing teacher shortage. Hundreds of school staffers are resigning for safety reasons, and officials say they’re expecting more teachers to follow.

Ruben Miranda has taught elementary school music for almost seven years, but now he’s resigning to protect his health.

“I would love to come back to teaching and I would love to teach right now, I just don’t think that the conditions are right,” Miranda said.

Ruben Miranda has taught elementary school music for almost seven years. He decided to resign two weeks ago, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Ruben Miranda has taught elementary school music for almost seven years. He decided to resign two weeks ago, citing the coronavirus pandemic. (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News)

Miranda said he tried working with his school and district officials to get thermometers so teachers could test their students temperatures daily, but school officials denied that request. He says social distancing has been near impossible and the school stated that if staying 6 feet apart weren’t an option, 3 feet would suffice. Being a music teacher, Miranda would have seen almost the entire school each week. His school started its year with virtual learning but since then, it’s been returning to in-person instruction.

“Those are some big red flags for me: just the amount of students I was seeing, the lack of safety precautions, the fact that we were rushing into everything so quickly without a real clear plan and there were so many unanswered questions,” Miranda said

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Arizona was short on teachers even before the coronavirus pandemic. According to ASPAA or the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association’s latest survey 751 teachers severed employment this year with 326 of them citing COVID-19 as the primary reason.

“We’re in the bottom five for average teacher salary. … We’re  in the bottom five of education funding, I already mentioned were in the top five of highest class sizes. To me those are the three probably main root causes,” said Justin Wing, data coordinator for ASPAA.

According to ASPAA’s latest survey 751 teachers severed employment this year with 326 of them citing COVID-19 as the primary reason (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News).

According to ASPAA’s latest survey 751 teachers severed employment this year with 326 of them citing COVID-19 as the primary reason (Stephanie Bennett/ Fox News).

According to the survey, 28% of teacher positions remain vacant across the state, while half of the vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s standard certification requirements.

“If you already have a teacher shortage, you were struggling to fill those jobs even before COVID now again it exasperates the situation and makes it more stressful both for the system itself and also for the existing teachers who have to take on more students,” said Wing.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says addressing the teacher shortage is her top priority. Shortly after being elected almost two years ago, she created a recruitment and retention team to try to combat the ongoing shortage. They’re currently working with local economic partners to try and attract new teachers and other school staffers.

“The teaching and learning is not the same and not even possible without our teachers,” said Arizona Superintendent Hoffman. “I was not surprised when I saw this latest report from ASPAA, however, I was completely devastated. … Now in this COVID era, it feels like we were taking a step forward and now it feels like three steps backwards.”

School officials in Phoenix say they’re expecting more teachers to resign within the next month (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

School officials in Phoenix say they’re expecting more teachers to resign within the next month (Stephanie Bennett/Fox News).

Nationwide, 1 in 3 teachers say the pandemic has made them more likely to leave teaching earlier than they planned. All while thousands are calling in sick or demanding safer conditions.

“The conditions just don’t seem safe for me to be teaching right now and so I’ve been looking to other career options, you know going corporate, going into other professions, just seeing what else is out there because it just seems like the safest choice for me,” said Miranda.

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School officials in Phoenix say they’re expecting more teachers to resign within the next month. ASPAA will issue the survey again in December.

“I know that there are a lot of teachers that are on the fence and not many of them can make the choice that I made and you know I just want to say to them that there’s always a third option there has to be something else out there that you can do, and don’t feel like you’re alone,” said Miranda.

Fox News reached out to Ruben Miranda’s former school for comment. The Deer Valley Unified School District said in a statement, “Over the past several months, DVUSD has worked with public health experts to create an On Campus Operational Safety Plan using the best guidance available to keep students and staff safe. This comprehensive plan includes Maricopa County Department of Public Health recommendations as well as other state and national public health agencies including bus riding, social distancing, mask wearing, disinfecting/sanitizing, and indoor air quality. This plan was posted several weeks ago and shared with our teachers, parents, and community.”

You can read its full On Campus Operational Safety Plan here. 

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