Mission High School. Photo courtesy of miss_millions via Flickr Commons.

With more than 600 educators absent for the second consecutive day and Covid-19 testing kits in short supply, the San Francisco teacher’s union on Wednesday accused the school district of being “inept and negligent” in its handling of the situation and called for “decisive and immediate action” in the midst of the omicron crisis.

“This is precedented. We went through the delta surge and opened up schools in the fall,” said Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators-San Francisco, at a Wednesday gathering held in front of the San Francisco Unified School District offices. “It is not unreasonable to know that another variant is evolving and we need to have in place the plans and mitigation enforcement measures.”

“At the expense of educators’ and students’ health and well-being, the district has twice refused UESF’s call, in August and again in December, 2021, for an emergency plan for handling the latest surge of Covid-19,” said Curiel. “This is the epitome of inept and negligent leadership.” 

Without official union sanctioning, a group of teachers led by Greg McGarry of Mission High School and two of his colleagues have also planned a “sickout” for Thursday to protest the district’s handling of the situation. 

When asked whether the union is officially asking the teachers to walk out, Curiel replied that it is not — yet. “One of the key lever points of our bargaining tomorrow is the district showing up with a very serious response to our demands,” she said. “And their response to that will be an indicator of what our membership will decide.”

On Thursday, the teacher’s union and San Francisco Unified School District leaders will meet “to negotiate an updated agreement that is likely to involve Covid safety measures including sick days, masks and testing,” according to Curiel.

Coming out of the winter break, San Francisco students were not provided with at-home covid tests by the district, nor were they required to post negative results to return to school. The district, in the days before the Jan. 3 start of the new semester, suggested students be tested, right at the moment that testing sites were swamped and obtaining at-home tests was next to impossible. Curiel compared parents’ search for tests to “The Hunger Games.” 

In comparison, neighboring districts in Oakland, Berkeley, Marin and Contra Costa had tests in hand to disseminate to their students’ families. Curiel was particularly critical when noting the success Los Angeles schools have had in carrying out mandatory testing. “If that is entirely possible in a 50-by-50-square-mile city such as L.A., it is entirely possible in our seven-by-seven with 50,000 students,” she said.

In a statement today, SFUSD announced that it had just received a shipment of rapid tests late yesterday from the state, and the kits will be delivered to all school sites later this week.

In defense of current policies, San Francisco United School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a statement today that “This surge, while intense, is expected to be relatively brief, and omicron by all reports is more mild than other previous variants. We will get through this surge by continuing to get vaccinated, masking, staying home when sick, and testing.”

Educator outage is another dilemma the schools have struggled to mitigate. On Tuesday, Matthews had to personally fill in for a sixth-grade science class because 620 of the district’s 3,600 educators were absent.

Nearly half the staff of Mission’s Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 was absent on Monday, an unprecedented number, according to principal Claudia DeLarios Moran. “The real problem is, the reason we’re in this horrible crunch, is because we’re not getting substitutes. So we only have two substitutes, out of 23 vacancies,” she said.

“We are trying to prevent a complete shutting of schools if we don’t have the staff,” said Gabriela Lopez, president of the San Francisco Board of Education, referring both to education and medical staff. “The approach we are taking is not sustainable.”

More this week on the schools and testing kits

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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  1. Why is this being dealt with now? Why not a month ago? Everyone running the SFSUD Billion Dollar Clown show should brought up on charges for dereliction of duty

  2. The recall effort is not racist. It attempts to hold accountable the BOE for their ineptitude. Collins anti Asian rants, the lack of effort to open schools, the misguided efforts to rename schools instead of opening schools and more. SFUSD has a $25 million dollar budget deficit yet our BOE feels we should spend millions of dollars on non essential efforts like Collins lawsuit, renaming schools and destroying seminal works of art intended to point out historical inaccuracies. Get real and vote out Collins and Lopez. This note is from a fully vaccinated immunocompromised SFUSD teacher who is in the classroom every day supporting students.

  3. Regarding that excerpt of Vincent Matthews’ statement: what about teachers and kids who are immunocompromised or fall into another high-risk category? Or people they live with who may fall into one of those categories? What’s the evidence that omicron will be “mild” for them?

    He’s not alone in this omission, but there’s simply no mention of this important point. Zero.

    It’s such a callous way to rationalize throwing the most vulnerable under the bus.

    And it’s insane that there aren’t more protective measures being taken for the safety of our teachers and kids.

  4. I wonder how many home tests could have been purchased for the $100,000 of SFUSD money BOE president Lopez (and Moliga, Alexander, etc) spent on legal fees for her friend BOE member Collins’ lawsuit against her colleagues instead of recouping it from Collins? Maybe Collins should spend $100k buying tests for the District since she wasted at least that much of district money on a baseless lawsuit

    1. Crazy how you blame the BOE for racist recall effort by racist folks. How about you blame London Breed and DPH who really control when schools open. Next you blame Lopez for new vivid strain.

      1. Nothing racist about recalling incompetent racists (and Collins’s deployment of the model minority myth against Asians like my family is racist, whether or not she used the “House N” term). Given how broad the support for the recall is, you’ll need to update your talking points.

        I have an idea: why don’t you defend Collins and Lopez on the merits instead of tackling the recall? Odd how their defenders never seem to have any accomplishments to cite…

    2. You have your stories confused. The inept BoE members are the racists. As a reminder…
      Collins likening an entire race of people to ‘house n******’ = racist
      Collins + Lopez seeking to rename schools named after white people for whom they can find anything negative on Wikipedia (accurate or not), while not applying that same standard to others = racist
      BoE having no plan to address learning loss or achievement gap among Brown & Black students = racist