Across the United States, the arrival of a vigorous winter wave of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 sent school districts into chaos as scores of teachers tested positive and were kept out of the classroom. From Syracuse, New York and Waterbury, Connecticut to Los Angeles, California, school districts have been forced to send students back to at-home remote learning due to a lack of teachers and support staff. The disruption has caused an array of problems for educators, parents, and students alike.
Positive tests landing teachers in quarantine are just one factor contributing to the severe staff shortages. The labor pool of available and qualified teachers has shrunk considerably since the start of the pandemic and continues to contract. According to a survey conducted in June 2021 by the NEA, nearly a third of all respondents said the pandemic had accelerated their plans to leave teaching behind. Many districts have become desperate in an industry that already had shortages before the pandemic. In California, a district even gave students “now hiring” fliers to give to their parents.
These factors have put enormous strain on districts across the country, many of which had not anticipated such a severe winter surge. As a result of a lack of staff availability, some concerns are developing around potential solutions for filling in the gaps. Could districts start being lax about background checks at schools in an effort to ensure there are enough educators present for all children?
Staffing up to support additional remote learning poses a unique problem for districts. Without access to qualified teachers in the immediate area, some may hire teachers on an entirely virtual basis. An administrator carrying out such a process may never meet the applicant in person. Because these individuals won’t have direct physical interaction with their students, a district could potentially skirt the rules and hire a remote worker without the background screening often required by the law.
With some districts, such as Connecticut, choosing to cancel classes altogether due to a lack of staff, fast and easy options are an enticing solution compared to losing more learning days. However, school administrators must keep in mind that the potential for inappropriate behavior and abuse exists even in a remote setting. With some children engaging in distance learning while home alone due to parents that work, it is critical to guarantee that the individuals supervising children online are as trustworthy as the teachers a district puts in the classroom.
When conducting remote hiring, the importance of thorough teacher background checks is, therefore, perhaps even more significant than usual. There are many ways for an unsuitable candidate to slip through such a process, whether by falsifying educational credentials or failing to disclose past criminal activity. Fast, detailed vetting solutions, such as the reporting services offered by backgroundchecks.com, can reduce friction in hiring while still meeting critical requirements.
With an uncertain future, districts should look to lock in the capability to respond to urgent hiring needs as soon as possible. Meanwhile, parents and legislators must strive to keep administrators accountable for protecting children no matter their learning environment.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments