Omicron surge has some schools moving toward remote learning

SEATTLE — With omicron surging and teachers out sick or under quarantine, school districts are beginning to cancel classes or switch to remote learning.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction estimated between 14 and 18 districts had schools in remote learning or moving that way.

Seattle’s Franklin High School closed for the day Monday with little notice.

“We’re just off school, nothing going on, no instruction,” said sophomore Chukundi Salisbury.

Seattle Public Schools officials said a shortage of teachers and substitutes forced the closure.

Franklin also closed in December for a day because of staffing.

“I feel an online learning environment would be better if we’re taking these many days off, it just makes more sense,” Salisbury said.

Seattle’s Kimball Elementary was also closed for the day because of what the district calls “staff and student attendance projections.”

In an email to staff Monday, district officials outlined the criteria when they would consider moving a school to remote learning, including an elementary absence rate approaching 50%.

The Mukilteo School District said Mariner High School had 13 unfilled teacher positions on Monday, and Kamiak High School had six.

Officials say those absences were covered by administrators and other teachers.

Lake Washington High School switched Monday to remote learning, with plans to return in-person Jan. 19.

“It’s hard to overstate how bad it is. We’re seeing upwards of one hundred unfilled positions every day,” said Julianna Dauble, president of the Renton Education Association, which has 1,100 members.

Dauble says unfilled absences in some schools are as high as 30%.

Teachers are giving up planning periods to cover classes.

“In one student’s day in elementary school, they could have between four and ten people coming in just to supervise,” Dauble said.

Dauble said no teachers want to go remote, but the shortage of substitutes means the current situation is not sustainable.

The Renton Education Association planned to meet Monday night to consider what to recommend to their superintendent.