California makes it easier to hire teachers amid shortages

FILE - Children wear protective masks inside an elementary school classroom with separate desks for social distancing measures.

California is making it easier for school districts to hire teachers and other employees amid staffing shortages brought on by the latest surge in coronavirus cases, the governor said Tuesday. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has signed an executive order to allow schools more flexibility in staffing decisions like giving additional hours to substitute teachers and rehiring recent retirees for short stints. The order expires at the end of March. 

"These are short-term challenges that require short-term and targeted solutions," said Newsom, a Democrat. 

The fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is sidelining school personnel statewide a week after some 6 million K-12 students returned to classrooms following winter break. 

Newsom said he hopes to expedite a hiring process that's typically time consuming and allow school districts "to keep our kids safely in person for the remainder of the year and get through this next three to six or so weeks." 

The California Teachers Association, which represents some 300,000 educators statewide, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the governor's order.

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.

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

Newsom announced the executive order during a stop Tuesday at a medical clinic in Kern County where he highlighted his proposal to expand healthcare for all Californians, regardless of immigration status.