Schools struggle to stay open in omicron surge

WASHINGTON — At Highline Public Schools, it’s all hands on deck.

On Friday, Jennifer Reinig substituted in a third-grade classroom at Shorewood Elementary.

“Anything we can do to give teachers and schools what they need to keep going,” said Reinig, who is the district’s Interim chief academic officer.

Like all central office staffers with teaching certificates, she’s now covering for educators who are out during the omicron surge.

Teachers are also giving up planning time to help in neighboring classrooms.

The strategy has kept Highline schools open so far as the omicron variant has spread wildly.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can but we’re also trying to be realistic and preparing,” Reinig said.

Highline Education Association President Sandy Hunt said her members appreciate the help from the central office but would also like more information from the district.

“They haven’t made it clear what would cause a school to have to pivot to remote,” Hunt said.

To the north, in Seattle, tensions are high.

Teachers at Chief Sealth International High School organized a sick out on Friday because of safety concerns, and students rallied at district headquarters after walking out of class.

Some students said they wanted to return to remote learning because of the spike in COVID cases.

Four Seattle schools were closed entirely on Friday, and eight more were in remote learning.

State officials at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said more than 30 districts in Washington have schools in remote learning.