As Santa Clara County public schools remain open, parents volunteer to fill staff vacancies

Residents waited up to 4 hours last weekend for COVID tests at an Action Urgent Care clinic in west San Jose.

In a joint video posted  Friday, Santa Clara County’s top school and health officials announced that school districts in the county will remain open despite the Omicron surge, maintaining that in-person instruction is vital for students and remote or virtual learning is not an option.

County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Ann Dewan and County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody, shared data about the current surge and learnings over the past two years that helped drive the decision to keep schools open.

As of Jan. 12, 2022, Santa Clara County’s 7-day rolling average of new cases was 3,836, an increase of over 1,800% since Dec. 12, 2021. However, death and hospitalization rates continue to decrease.

“Keeping our students, staff, and families safe remains our top priority,” said Dr. Dewan. “We are working alongside our school districts to protect in-person learning and practice the appropriate safety protocols.”

“The good news is that the cases we are seeing from Omicron are milder than previous COVID cases, said Dr. Cody.”We have also learned that we need to find ways to coexist and live with COVID. We have learned a lot from the previous two years.”

However, sick students and concerned parents are just a few of the issues schools are facing amidst Omicron. Testing remains in short supply, with waits as long as four hours or more at some drive-through, no-appointment clinics. The surge has also left schools scrambling to solve infection-related labor shortages, as classrooms across the Bay Area see an absence of teachers and administrative staff.

Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to provide staffing flexibility for schools to support continued safe, in-person instruction for students.

“Schools nationwide returning from winter break are experiencing short-term staffing shortages that are putting a strain on operations,” said Gov. Newsom. “We’re working closely with local education officials to cut red tape to allow qualified substitute teachers to help maintain safe learning environments. We are grateful for the thousands of dedicated teachers, classified staff and administrators who have worked tirelessly to provide safe learning environments for all of California’s students.”

On Monday, Palo Alto school leaders asked parents to volunteer for in-school positions, such as custodial duties and in-classroom roles. According to the Palo Alto Unified Superintendent, Don Austin, over 700 parent volunteers began campus positions Wednesday.

“One of the things we have learned is the importance of balance. We have goals as a community and one of those goals, a very central goal, is to ensure that our kids get a solid education,” said Dr. Cody. “We’ve learned that in-person education is what they need.”