More journalists than demonstrators appeared at San Francisco Unified School District offices on Jan. 6, 2022. Photo by Yujie Zhou.

Despite fears of a teacher sickout, those able to work appeared to show up at Mission schools today.

The case is more uncertain citywide, as not even five teachers showed up to demonstrate in front of the San Francisco Unified School District office at noon.

They were heavily outnumbered by some 15 journalists, who were left to grapple with the resulting “panopticonference” — a scenario in which more people show up to cover an event than show up to the event. They weren’t the only ones confused.

But, whether the 616 teachers reported absent by the San Francisco Unified School District today were sick or just staying home, most didn’t come to the demonstration.

“Some people are worried that there will be some kind of repercussions if you call in sick and then show up at the rally,” said Katrina Sicairos, a protester and a teacher at Raoul Wallenberg High School, when asked why only “maybe five” people showed up. “A lot of people are actually sick, some people are worried about gathering.”

Mission High School teachers had planned today’s sickout without backing from their union. And the timing was not coincidental: Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators-San Francisco announced yesterday at the district office that UESF and the district are planning a session Thursday “to negotiate an updated agreement that is likely to involve Covid-19 safety measures including sick days, masks and testing.” 

The previous evening, the SF Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, which includes union members, posted “an update from veteran educators about the safest possible course of action for tomorrow” on Instagram, encouraging people to stay home.

“It is a sick-out. Be home sick. Pass it on,” read the post.

Prior to the pandemic, wrote Laura Dudnick, a San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman, there were 250 to 300 teacher absences on an average school day.

All of the district’s schools remain open, added Dudnick, with absences being covered by substitutes and by credentialed staff from the district office.

“We have been telling students and staff to stay home if they are sick,” said Dudnick. “We hope everyone who is healthy will come to school.”

On the ground in the Mission, it was pandemic business as usual.

At Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School on 23rd Street between Valencia and Bartlett, principal Claudia Delarios-Moran was occupied with news of multiple positive student and staff cases — she didn’t say how many — but noted there were no teacher absences due to the sickout.

“Many have been, and will be, out due to having covid or quarantining because they are a close contact or because they have a symptom consistent with covid,” she wrote in a text.

Children and their parents or guardians stood in line this morning as César Chávez Elementary staff ushered students into the courtyard, some already bouncing basketballs inside, on Folsom Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. They were not willing to talk about staffing issues or the planned “sickout.”

At George Moscone Elementary, a few blocks away, near 22nd and Harrison streets, a staff member at the front gate relayed a message from the principal that they were fully staffed and taking precautions.

Peter Avila, principal at Marshall Elementary, said they only have two teachers out currently, but their absences also predate the sickout announcement. 

The real trouble is getting substitutes, he said, speaking outside the school near Capp and 15th streets. As a smaller school of about 250 students — and that’s with enrollment diminished —  they still don’t have enough support staff to cover classes when there aren’t enough substitutes to go around. But that’s been an ongoing problem, he said. 

Mission High School and John O’Connell Technical High School did not return requests for comment by press time.

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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. UESF leadership is struggling. Lots of rank and file want to speak out against UESF leadership but even a hint of doing that can result in EXTREME retaliation and name calling ie “anti-union”. It’s sad because our corrupt superintendent and his cronies at central office have capitalized (literally) on bad union leadership.

    1. I hear ya. It is a wall of intimidation all around. No one DARE have a unique or different opinion than that of the union prez and vice prez. Many of the “likes” they receive to their posts are families who follow and support them unquestionably and often do not have a big picture idea of what is going on besides “yo te apoyo!!” or “si se puede”. We are beyond that but the cult of performative activism is strong.

  2. UESF leadership is a clown show. Advise SFUSD teachers to return to their classrooms and students, or suggest that they should find a new vocation. Enough is enough.

  3. The sickout and the demonstration were not the same thing. UESF leadership called for the demonstration. UESF rank and file called for the sickout. The sickout happened. The rally … not so much.

  4. This whole article is one-sided and you don’t even talk about why the sickout happened in the first place. The “demonstration” wasn’t the story at all anyway; it was the sickout. Shoddy reporting. Read the SF Chron for a more balanced story.