Students like these at Oceana High School in Pacifica

Tribune file photo

Students like these at Oceana High School in Pacifica have had to roll with the COVID-19 punches this year. And even administrators have been pressed into classroom duties.

COVID-19 has made for a rocky return to local schools after the winter break. Pacifica schools are reporting much higher than usual staff and student absences so far in January. And administrators have taken the extraordinary step of jumping into the classroom when needed.

Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School Principal Dan Lyttle said many families notified staff that their students or close family members had come down with the Omicron variant. Last week, attendance was down by 20 percent for students at IBL, which is in the Pacifica School District. 

“Our district has been working diligently to contact each of those families to advise them when they would be able to return to school and what was needed to do to get them back to the site. Over the course of the week, families have also elected to keep their students home to minimize any risk associated with COVID-19,” he said in an email to the Tribune.

And it’s not just students who are having trouble getting back into the classroom. Staff is struggling to cover all the classrooms in the midst of the current surge.

“Coverage has been challenging across the school district as substitutes are few and far between,” he said. “District office personnel have been filling in for absent teachers along with site staff to cover the vacancies. We are hopeful the next week will bring a lot of relief as people recover.”

PSD Superintendent Heather Olsen said that several of her district staff returned to the classroom since the holiday break amid a dearth of substitute teachers.

PSD conducted pooled testing. Students and staff were all tested on Jan. 5, Lyttle wrote in the email to the Tribune.

“We have rapid antigen tests to administer to staff and students and have been able to meet the needs of our school community. Those rapid antigen tests are only for those students and staff who have registered for the pool testing. There is an extremely limited amount of home tests that are available for our most needy families at each school site,” Lyttle wrote.

Toni Presta, superintendent of the Jefferson Union HIgh School District, said in an email to the Tribune, the district sent home rapid test kits for students.

“We are offering on-site rapid tests for staff (last week and this week) after school. We have ordered 2,400 additional rapid tests, but we do not know when they will get here,” she wrote. “There are increased absences, which has been difficult. But our sites have been doing a great job ensuring that classes are covered and students are learning in a safe environment.”

In her letter to the school community sent on Thursday, she said COVID-19

cases in San Mateo County are “widespread” but the San Mateo County health officer believes there is less public health concern from students remaining in school than the harm that happens when schools close. The state will no longer support distance learning after winter break, she said.

JUHSD added a self reporting of positive COVID-19 cases to its website. A notification will go out if there is a positive case in a classroom.

Jane Northrop has covered Pacifica for the Pacifica Tribune since 1996. She has won first place John Swett Awards from the California Teachers Association for her coverage of education.

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