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Dozens of Richmond teachers plan to call in sick Monday as School Board shifts meeting about masking policy to Sunday

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Richmond School Board sign

A group of Richmond Public Schools teachers are planning to call in sick Monday in response to the Omicron surge of COVID-19, according to a press release. The announcement comes as the Richmond School Board plans to meet later on Sunday to address a “legal matter.”

“The Omicron surge has resulted in severe staffing shortages, which make daily operations difficult and place tremendous strain on remaining staff who struggle to meet the needs of students,” the press release from a group of dozens of teachers states, “many of whom are absent themselves due to illness, quarantines, or fear of coming to school.”

Superintendent Jason Kamras acknowledged Sunday that teachers are under stress but urged them to come to school. 

“We understand the extraordinary challenges our educators are facing this year and will continue to do everything possible to support them," Kamras said. "We know their students are excited to see them tomorrow and we’re expecting all healthy educators to report as normal.”

The letter calls for more information on when schools would close, better access to KN95 masks and virtual or half-day Wednesdays among other safety measures.

A flyer has also circulated online demanding the school division provide explicit metrics for what would trigger school closures.

Weeks ago, the Richmond Education Association, who is not the organizer of the sickout, told the administration that teachers were heading toward a crisis and that in-person school was becoming more difficult to conduct.

Teachers in RPS who spoke to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on background say they’ve seen days where half of their students are absent due to COVID. They’ve also said that some staff members have caught COVID-19 upward of three times, and describe the schools as a place where COVID is spreading rapidly.

In Kamras’ daily newsletter, RPS Direct, where he announces new COVID-19 cases among students and staff, numbers have increased exponentially. Kamras has vowed to keep schools open, deploying central office staff into school buildings.

Also in Richmond, the School Board late last week called a meeting for Monday to discuss legal matters. A school division spokeswoman said that meeting was called to discuss the system's masking policy. The meeting has been moved to Sunday at 3 p.m. with an agenda calling for a closed session to discuss matters "pertaining to actual or probable litigation."

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