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.”