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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District are in survival mode as they face a staff shortage, according to a teachers union leader. 

Mass teacher absences due to COVID-19 have resulted in students being taught in auditoriums instead of classrooms. Teachers said staffing is getting worse. 

“At my site alone, they’re laying off 10% of our staff next year. We already don’t have staff, we’re already short. That’s why students are in the auditorium,” said Zachary Bryant. “So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to start cutting staff or reducing benefits in a time where we need people more than ever.” 

Bryant, a Spanish teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, said it’s hard to get children to follow COVID-19 rules while getting their work done. He said students are even less likely to get work done while being grouped in one large room — especially when teachers don’t show up and substitutes aren’t available. 

After coming back from winter break, Sacramento Teachers Association President David Fisher said he thought the district would have a better plan. 

“It’s been traumatic for all of us,” Fisher said. “I’m coming back after the break, we had feared that something like this would happen and we had hoped that our district would have had a plan ready. So we are seeing just schools and teachers in survival mode just trying to make things work.”

Fisher said teachers and substitute teachers need a raise in pay, plus help with sick and COVID-19 leave, which right now is one of the biggest challenges. 

“Our district has cut the COVID leave for everybody. They’re demanding huge takeaways and they’re refusing to raise pay for a substitute,” Fisher said. “So, it’s just making matters, that are already challenging, making them worse.”

A spokesperson for the district said only around 20 people have gone forward to apply for substitute jobs since a call for help went out Friday. 

Bryant said the lack of interest says a lot. 

“It’s a rewarding career and the fact that so many people are leaving shows that we are really in a crisis,” Bryant said. 

FOX40 reached out to SCUSD for a statement on staffing shortages. District Communications Manager Al Goldberg said there were over 300 requests for substitute teachers at their schools Monday. Of those, 190 were filled. Goldberg noted substitutes were needed for not only COVID-19 vacancies but more common absences as well.

“Our district and school site leaders are working hard to manage staffing shortages as they arise while keeping our students and staff safe through our health and safety protocols, and providing an equitable learning environment for all students. In some instances, this means that principals, district central office staff with teaching credentials, and other appropriately credentialed site-level administrators will work in classrooms to cover teacher absences,” SCUSD’s statement read in part.