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Schools Experience Teacher Shortages

It’s Monday, January 10th, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:

1) Schools Experience Teacher Shortages

The Topline: As businesses continue to feel the effects of a record-breaking labor shortage, schools nationwide are struggling to find teachers and other essential workers. 

Photographer: Hannah Beier/Bloomberg/Contributor via Getty Images

Schools

Schools in 11 states, including California, Illinois, and New York, have had to temporarily shut their doors because they can’t find enough teachers and other staff to keep things running. 

There were more teacher resignations in a two-week span in San Francisco last semester than during any one year period. 

In one San Antonio school, there were so few teachers available that hundreds of students spent hours last week sitting together in an auditorium during the day. 

In a Virginia school district, counselors and other administrators are being used as substitute teachers. 

The problem had already been bad coming into the New Year, but with the less deadly but highly contagious Omicron variant spreading, more schools are being affected as teachers call out sick — and there’s no one to fill in for them. 

The National Educators Association reported that one in three teachers are considering quitting or retiring earlier than expected this year.

Not Just Teachers

School districts nationwide are struggling to find bus drivers, nurses, and teachers aides. 

Many districts are running “substitute teacher sign-up drives” with increased pay, signing bonuses, and looser educational requirements for applicants. Many districts are also no longer requiring subs to have a college degree. 

There’s also a massive shortage of cafeteria workers, with one survey showing that 90% of school districts need extra help in that area. 

There’s also a bus driver shortage. In response, the Department of Education announced a joint agreement with the Department of Transportation allowing states to loosen requirements for school bus drivers, as long as they can pass the driving portion of the commercial license test. 

Potential Causes

There are currently 11 million job openings nationwide, and a lot of teachers nationwide aren’t happy in their current role. Many reported feeling stressed, overworked and underpaid, and that was before the pandemic hit. Now, they say the job has gotten even harder. 

There are also fewer people going into education. Since 2016, there’s been a dip in the number of college freshmen majoring in education. That number is now around 4%, which is the lowest rate on record, which means there’s a smaller pool of qualified teachers.

COVID is also playing a role. Since the lockdowns, industries that rely primarily on females for the workforce, especially nursing and teaching, have suffered, as many women were forced to stay home and offer child care when schools closed. As schools have reopened, data has shown that many women have been slow to get back into the workforce. 

Addressing The Problem

The main response so far has been to increase pay to lure new workers and retain existing ones. In New Mexico, where there are over 1,000 open teaching positions, the state has requested a quarter billion dollars to raise teacher salaries by 7% and increase the minimum salary from $50,000 to $60,000, while schools in California are offering a $6,000 signing bonus for new teachers. The Department of Education is also urging states to request more federal COVID funding to put towards hiring and training new teachers. 

Flavia Morlachetti via Getty Images

2) New Study Reveals Data On Babies Born During The Pandemic

The Topline: New research on the impact of the COVID era on pregnancy found that babies born during the pandemic scored worse on social and motor skills than those born pre-lockdowns.

Quote Of The Day: “We were surprised to find absolutely no signal suggesting that exposure to COVID while in utero was linked to neurodevelopmental deficits. Rather, being in the womb of a mother experiencing the pandemic was associated with slightly lower scores in areas such as motor and social skills, though not in others, such as communication or problem-solving skills.”

– Dr. Dani Dumitriu

The Study

Researchers at Columbia University discovered that babies born during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic received lower scores on a developmental screening test of motor and social skills at six months of age. 

The study included 255 infants born at hospitals in New York between March and December of 2020. The data came from questionnaires given to parents by their childrens’ doctors in order to look at the development of their baby. That data was compared to babies born at the same hospitals before the pandemic.

The researchers found that babies whose moms were pregnant during the pandemic had moderately lower scores in those motor and social skills, but not in other areas like communication and problem-solving.

The study included moms who got COVID-19 during their pregnancy, and moms who didn’t. It showed no difference between the two groups, leading researchers to hypothesize it was the maternal stress of the pandemic, rather than the virus itself, that might have been the common factor affecting the kids’ development.

Stress In Pregnancy

The report pointed out that researchers didn’t measure the mothers’ stress during their pregnancies, but relied on previous studies which have found that stress early in pregnancy can impact socioemotional functions in babies more than stress that happens later on in pregnancies. This study seemed to be consistent with that fact, because the babies whose first trimester of pregnancy corresponded with the height of the pandemic showed the lowest scores in neurodevelopment.

The study also indicated that other factors could have impacted the babies, such as less time spent with friends and warped interactions with stressed-out people who were taking care of them. 

Aurelien Meunier/Contributor/Getty Images

3) Australia Considers Deporting Novak Djokovic Over Vaccination Status

The Topline: Over the weekend, the world’s number one men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic, was detained in a quarantine hotel in Australia waiting to find out if he would be deported after his visa was cancelled by the Australian government because he is unvaccinated.

Quote Of The Day: “They are keeping him as a prisoner. It’s just not fair, it’s not human. …terrible accommodation[s], it’s just some small immigration hotel…if it’s [a] hotel at all…it’s so dirty and the food is so terrible…”

– Djokovic’s mother

Djokovic

Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open nine times, announced last Tuesday he’d been granted a medical exemption to play in the tournament this year. His participation has been in question for months, as Djokovic has refused to divulge his vaccination status and has also been vocal on his thoughts regarding the vaccine.

Australia has been through a year of severe lockdowns and COVID restrictions. All players, staff, and spectators must be fully vaccinated in order to attend the Australian Open. 

Tennis Australia announced the exemption last Tuesday, saying it’d been granted following a “rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.” One of those panels came from the more liberal Victorian government Department of Health, meaning the Victorian government approved the medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

When he arrived in Australia — after an 8-hour standoff with authorities he was told Thursday that he would not be allowed into the country. Djokovic’s medical exemption from the COVID vaccine was the reason for the standoff, with the announcement that he “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia,” and his visa was cancelled.

Novak tested positive for COVID in 2020 and in December 2021, which was the reason he was granted a medical exemption from the vaccine. 

Bottom Line: The exemption allows him to play in the tournament, but does not grant him access to Australia. The decision lies with the federal government, which determined that the reason for the exemption wasn’t good enough for them.

What Happens Now

There was outrage in his home country of Serbia, with the country’s president calling his treatment “harassment” and saying he’d use all diplomatic avenues available to help him. 

Djokovic’s lawyers challenged the ruling, and were waiting for the courts to come back into session.

In a move that surprised a lot of people who’ve seen how strict the Australian government has been regarding COVID and vaccinations, the court is letting Djokovic play. He will get to defend his 2021 Australian Open title.

However, lawyers for the federal government have said they may cancel his visa for a second time.

Erin Schaff-Pool / Getty Images

Other Stories We’re Tracking

Justice Sotomayor

Progressive Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has come under heavy criticism for promoting “Covid misinformation.” While hearing arguments against the OSHA employer vaccine mandate, Sotomayor falsely claimed that around 100,000 children were in “serious condition” and “many” of them were “on ventilators.” The actual number hospitalized is around 3,500.

Citigroup

Citigroup is preparing to fire its unvaccinated employees. It is the first major Wall Street bank to impose such a mandate. Citigroup told its workers they must get the shot by January 14th or be placed on unpaid leave and fired at the end of the month.

President Joe Biden

In his first year in office, President Joe Biden held fewer news conferences than any of his five immediate predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. He has also participated in fewer media interviews.

Afghan Baby

The Afghan baby who was handed to U.S. soldiers over a barricade during the evacuation of Kabul has been reunited with his family. The child, then 2 months old, was separated from family during the chaos on August 19th, and was taken in by a 29-year-old taxi driver in Kabul. On Saturday, the child was reunited with his grandfather and other relatives. 

And…happy 40th birthday to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

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