SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Scrambling to keep schools open, Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order making it easier for San Francisco Bay Area school districts to hire teachers and other employees amid staffing shortages brought on by the latest surge in coronavirus cases.

The current outbreak has created a crisis in the classroom as omicron infections or quarantines in the wake of close exposure to the virus has depleted the teaching ranks.

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Schools in Palo Alto Unified have asked parents to volunteer as substitute instructors, the Oakland School for the Arts cancelled classes for the remainder of the week because a shortage of teachers and Hayward Unified has returned to remote learning this week amid the omicron surge.

“Schools nationwide returning from winter break are experiencing short-term staffing shortages that are putting a strain on operations,” Newsom said in a press release. “We’re working closely with local education officials to cut red tape to allow qualified substitute teachers to help maintain safe learning environments. We are grateful for the thousands of dedicated teachers, classified staff and administrators who have worked tirelessly to provide safe learning environments for all of California’s students.”

The order issued on Tuesday lowers state barriers that delay the hire of qualified short-term substitute teachers; permitting substitute teachers to have their assignments extended and providing additional flexibility to support retired teachers who have returned to the classroom, as well as eliminating barriers that may prevent additional retired teachers from returning.

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The California Teachers Association, which represents some 300,000 educators statewide, said it recognizes the need for hiring flexibility and urges school districts “to focus on substitute teachers, recent retirees and student teachers.”

“The executive order is by no means the answer to long-term staffing shortages, and we look forward to working with the governor, lawmakers and the education community in rebuilding our educator pipeline, which has been devastated by this pandemic,” association spokesperson Lisa Gardiner said in a statement Tuesday.

Newsom also said the state was working on getting more COVID-19 tests to schools. Last week Newsom and state officials faced criticism for failing to deliver on a promise to provide rapid, at-home tests to all California students and school staff before classrooms reopened after the break.

Millions of test kits were sent to families but millions more were not, and there have been long lines at testing sites.

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