As omicron surges, more Bay Area school sickouts are planned for this week

Educators at more Bay Area schools are planning sick-outs this week: They say the move is needed to put pressure on school districts to provide more COVID safety measures. 

Families at Montera Middle School in Oakland, for example, got a note from teachers explaining that many of them won't be at school on Thursday. 

The letter explains why they're not coming to school: "A sickout is an act of defiance in which large numbers of teachers and/or staff call in sick. We must push our superintendent, school board directors, and Oakland Unified School District to drastically improve health and safety conditions in Oakland schools."

Teachers across Oakland Unified are calling on the district to provide everyone with KN-95 or other medical-grade masks, weekly COVID testing on campus and an emergency plan in case there isn't enough staff.

The letter encouraged parents to keep their kids home on Thursday, in support of their sick-out. This would be the second sickout at Oakland Unified. There is also no school on Friday for a professional development day, and no school on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King. 

Educators at other Bay Area school districts are calling for similar actions.

There are teacher sickouts planned Wednesday at Hercules Middle School and Stege Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, which just reopened after two days of winter break.

And at Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, families got a similar note saying teachers would not be out until next Tuesday. They are also calling for KN-95 masks and increased testing. 

Laila Comolli, the mother of an eighth-grader, noted that right now, kids are not getting their normal schooling. 

"The kids looked kind of bored," she said.

In response, Kenneth Chris Hurst, the superintendent of the West Contra Costa District, said in a statement:  "Employees coordinating with one another to call in sick together is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This type of action is not helpful and exacerbates our current issues, causing immense challenges for the remaining school community who do show up."

One of the biggest challenges during a sickout is finding enough substitutes to supervise kids during staff shortages.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order making it easier for school districts to hire subs but that will take time to be fully implemented.

And in the meantime, many school districts, including in Palo Alto, have called on parents and other community members to step in as volunteers to help keep schools open.

Other schools, like Oakland School for the Arts, Bishop O'Dowd and schools in Hayward Unified have just shut down or gone remote for the next two weeks.