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San Francisco, Oakland teachers demand districts take more COVID-19 precautions, plan sickouts

Teachers in San Francisco and nearby Oakland, California, are demanding their school districts take more COVID-19 precautions amid the surge of omicron, with some members allegedly threatening walkouts.

Like the Chicago Teachers Union, which is negotiating with the Chicago school district, some United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) members and Oakland teachers may not show up to school in-person this week as they negotiate with their respective districts for more COVID-19 safety measures, according to local reports.

“Our goal is to keep school buildings open safely, and that requires regular, accessible testing and guaranteed COVID sick leave,” UESF President Cassondra Curiel said in a Wednesday statement. “The district could have avoided this crisis with forethought and a sincere interest in keeping schools open and kids and educators safe. There have been serious gaps in judgment. But we can all turn it around so that we can give our students the opportunity for a smooth school year.”

Curiel told FOX 2 San Francisco on Wednesday that “some rank and file members have been passing around a petition” in response to a question about a potential walkout.

“That’s what I know. I know members feel desperate and I don’t blame them at all,” she said.

More than 700 people have signed an online petition calling for a “sickout” Thursday.

“Omicron breaks through vaccines and boosters and has a short incubation period. We need regular mandatory testing for all employees and students to ensure that major outbreaks do not occur, especially BEFORE we return to sites,” the petition states. “Everyone in schools must be screened, and if ‘we can’t afford it,’ we shouldn’t be opening at all.”

It is unclear how many San Francisco teachers did not show up to class Thursday. The SFUSD did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News Digital regarding the scheduled sickout, but SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews in a Wednesday statement pushed to continue in-person learning amid a surge in omicron cases.

Teacher Nusheen Saadat, second from left, leads students across campus during a summer school session at Golden View Elementary School on Monday, June 14, 2021, in San Ramon, Calif.  (Photo by Aric Crabb/MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

“In-person learning offers the best form of instruction for our students, and even as the pandemic continues, we believe school remains a safer place for our students considering the harmful effects of social isolation and learning loss,” Matthews said. “…As we returned from winter break this week, we encouraged testing, set up new testing sites and sent out information about numerous ways to get tested prior to school reopening. Throughout this week and this weekend we are making rapid testing available at several schools and district headquarters.”

The district recently received a new order of COVID-19 tests and has “begun to prepare them for distribution and delivery to each school site to hand out to students,” along with personal protective equipment (PPE), including surgical and cloth masks, he said.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on Thursday warned parents of a potential teacher “sickout” on Friday, according to an email from OUSD leaders.

“It has come to our attention that some OUSD teachers may be planning an illegal ‘sick out’ tomorrow,” the email reads. “… We need to be clear: this action — at whichever school it occurs — is likely to significantly disrupt basic operation and instruction and will negatively impact the safety of students.”

The school district leaders added that “despite the high number of staff absences this week,” it has been able to keep schools open due to the amazing dedication of … employees, who have gone above and beyond to cover absences, take additional students, and do what else needs to be done.”

A press release from a group of Oakland Unified teachers and staff from various schools will meet at Leona Canyon Trail Head on Friday and drive as a caravan to the OUSD District Office. Their demands include two weeks of remote learning; the “mass purchase and distribution of N95/KN95 masks for all staff and students”; weekly PCR testing for all staff and students; retroactive extension of COVID-19 leave between Nov. 7, 2021, and June 20, 2022; a meeting with the Oakland Education Association (OEA) bargaining team; HEPA filters in all cafeterias and large spaces; and more.

Oakland’s teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News Digital.

Most California public schools were closed for a year between March 2020 and March and April 2021.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Dec. 22 affirmed state leaders’ “shared commitment … to keep each other safe and to keep our classrooms open.”

“Across California, school communities – students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and board members together – have worked tirelessly to keep schools both safe and in-person. California schools have been open because of, not despite of, our priority on safety,” Newsom said at the time. “As we approach the new year, we reaffirm our shared commitment to one another, to our parents and to our students: to keep each other safe and to keep our classrooms open.”

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