As more schools move to online learning, St. Paul teachers union pushes for stricter COVID protocols

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As cases of the COVID omicron variant spread across the state, school districts are flooded with issues surrounding staff and student absences.

Osseo Area Schools made the decision Monday evening to transition to distance learning Tuesday.

With 25% of staff members out, the district says, "It is not possible to sustain ordinary, in-person operations for the short term."

"At first I got a text message from another parent saying, ‘Oh my goodness, did you see?’" shared Mary Ann Cherico, a parent in the district.

She has two elementary schoolers, last year they stayed home to learn, but went back to their school classrooms this year.

"The good part is my kids have done this before, so for us to transition back into this life I am not too worried about," she said.

Cherico says she wants to make sure staff is healthy and feels comfortable coming to school, and understands an in-person pause is necessary.

"If it means it has to be more difficult for us for the next couple weeks I’d rather do that than lose great staff because they don’t feel comfortable being in the building," Cherico added.

In the first week back in class after the winter break, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools (PLSAS) reported 632 students out because of COVID.

On Monday 12% of teachers were also out, and as is the case in every district, finding substitutes is difficult.

Students will move to distance learning on Thursday for at least one week.

"We know this is a huge burden to our families and we are just really hopeful we can do this for a few days of a pause, we can get our staff back, get our kids healthy and continue going really strong," said PLSAS Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch.

In St. Paul, classes are still in-person — that’s where the superintendent says he wants to keep students — but some say it’s not working.

"I have heard from numerous buildings at all grade levels, elementary, middle and high school, all of which are in one level of crisis or another," said Leah VanDassor, president of the St. Paul Federation of Educators.

The St. Paul teachers union put out a list of requests they want St. Paul Public Schools to enact to deal with the omicron surge.

"We cannot move on this fast enough to make a change," VanDassor said.

The union’s plan calls for masks, COVID tests, contact tracing, maintaining the 10-day isolation period and metrics to shift to remote learning while taking into account staffing, substitutes and transportation.

"They really need to step up and do what they need to do for the majority of our students to keep them safe," she added.

The St. Paul School Board’s next scheduled meeting is Jan. 18.