Sequoia Union High School District creates plan for Omicron variant

The+board+discusses+the+plan+for+the+current+upsurge+of+the+Omicron+variant%2C+some+people+in+person%2C+while+others+join+in+on+zoom.

Screenshot by Margot Graves of Zoom call

The board discusses the plan for the current upsurge of the Omicron variant, some people in person, while others join in on zoom.

After a dramatic spike of COVID-19 cases, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) board held a meeting on Jan. 16 to discuss their new testing plan, the teacher shortage, and how sick students can stay on track.

The meeting from Thursday covered the board’s new testing plan. Between Monday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 23, two schools per day will have testing for staff and students, allowing for significantly more tests. These tests are available via appointment, and the district recommends anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or people with possible exposure to get one.

Carrie Fromm, a Carlmont High school mom and member of the SUHSD PTA, shared her relief from the district’s new testing plan.

“I think the increase in the access to testing makes me more comfortable, although being fully vaccinated and boosted already has me ok with kids going to school,” Fromm said.

This photo shows data from the positive COVID-19 cases of staff and students in the SUHSD. (from board presentation)

The board has been using Worksite Labs this school year, and this particular week of increased testing should allow for students and staff to be reassured if they have COVID-19.

Worksite Labs and the board worked together to suspend the regularly scheduled testing happening this week.

“Each of these locations[each school in the district] will have ample enough staff to do up to 700 tests per day, which is a total, with two schools together, of 1,400 per day,” Gary Fraiser, CEO of Worksite Labs, said.

Despite testing slowing the spread of COVID-19, students and staff will continue to contract it. A severe concern presented in the meeting is the newfound teacher shortage, as many teachers are being exposed to and contracting the virus.

“Right now, about 80% of school districts are negatively impacted by the teacher shortage,” said Todd Beal, the assistant superintendent of human resources.

Teacher shortages lead schools to need more substitute teachers, but there is a shortage of substitutes too. Usually, the district relies on retired teachers to come back and help, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made this harder.

“That’s been difficult because they look out for their own health, and they or people at home may have some health issues,” Beal said.

The meeting also pointed out that many substitutes from previous years have been able to find jobs that allow them to work from home, which would be their first choice with the pandemic.

Beal said that increasing substitute pay should likely increase their interest, making them more likely to come to the SUHSD district than San Mateo’s.

Gary Fraiser said, “We’ve extended the hours so that instead of it being a normal eight-hour day, it will be a 12 hour day, every single day for seven days straight, from 7 am to 7 pm.” (SUHSD presentation)

During this meeting, the leaders discussed what sick students should do to keep up with their workload. They recommended students check Canvas and complete assignments, assuming they are well enough to do work. Missing school can lead to a struggle for many students to keep up, as they are not receiving any lessons and only assignments.

“It was a struggle to keep up with schoolwork because teachers weren’t communicating very well, and it was hard to understand what assignments we had as well,” said Woodside High School sophomore student Daniella Noy, who had COVID-19 the first week back from winter break.

Noy struggled to keep up with assignments, as not receiving instruction from teachers causes confusion on what in-person students learned and how to do the work they find on Canvas.

Noy was also too sick to do assignments in her early days of having the virus, “for the first four or five days, I was sick enough that doing schoolwork at home was a challenge,” Noy said.

Samantha Lumish, a freshman from Carlmont High School, also had COVID-19 and had a different view on getting work done.

“It was pretty easy [to keep up with work] because I could do it whenever I wanted to, and it was on my own schedule, and there was no one to distract me,” said Lumish.

Although it varies, students and staff with COVID-19 struggle to keep up with school as it continues to move at the same pace as before. However, the meeting concluded by saying that everything the board is doing is to keep students learning in person.

“We remain committed as a district and as a board to in-person learning to the extent possible that our workforce is healthy,” said superintendent Dr. Darnise Williams.