Hundreds of San Francisco Unified School District teachers staged a “Sickout” protest on Thursday, refusing to teach in classrooms while the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) demands the district to increase safety measures.
Specifically, UESF teachers want several safety improvements, such as free daily disposable N95 or KN95 masks for all union staff, free weekly COVID-19 testing for all students and staff, free rapid testing at all SFUSD sites, and all staff continuing to get a 10-day paid sick day leave for COVID-19 illnesses. According to the union, the overall goal is to make school safe for students, faculty, and staff alike.
“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 statement on Wednesday. “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.”
While the district has made some strides, with SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews retorting that the District already runs the largest COVID-19 testing site in the city, as well as making rapid testing more available at schools and more masks being handed out, the UESF did not find these coming close to their demands. On Wednesday, union leaders warned of a walkout by many teachers as a form of protest, calling the districts response “inept and negligent.”
“This is precedented. We went through the Delta surge and opened up schools in the fall,” added Curiel. “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. This is the epitome of inept and negligent leadership.”
True to their word, many teachers joined in on the wildcat “sickout” on Thursday. Earlier in the week, the district already had around 600 staff members out due to COVID and other illnesses. The walkout added around 300 on Thursday, totaling around 900 staff members in all not going into school Thursday – around 20% of the entire district’s staff.
While school managed to remain in-session on Thursday, some parents worried that another walkout in the future could lead to an even greater percentage of teachers being out and possibly severely disrupting schooling. Effects of the walkout were also felt across the Bay in Oakland, where school staff there are weighing in on possibly starting their own walkout due to COVID-19 safety measures.
“As always, when districts and unions fight, it’s the kids who feel the brunt of it,” Becky Morgan, a parent leader at one of San Francisco’s public schools, told the Globe on Thursday. “I mean, look at our school district. We have problems. Three of the school board members are facing recall this year, they’re running at a deficit, there’s achievement gaps all over, and now they’re fighting over COVID precautions again. Our kids just want normalcy and to get a quality education. It’s why a lot of parents have been putting them into private schools more and more or homeschooling them when possible.
“Of course we want our kids to be safe too, but right now, the way both sides are behaving is just hurting their students instead. No one wins during this. So either the district gives these things to the teachers, the teachers stop all this and grow up, or they reach a civilized agreement. Really, I thought the ones acting the most childish were the kids, but I was proven wrong again.”
The union and the district are expected to continue negotiations over the outstanding issues going into Friday.
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