Tacoma teachers plan sickout to send message, but school district not deterred

Sixty-one Tacoma teachers called in sick Wednesday to send a message about concerns over in-person learning, but that number is only 15-20 more than usual and the district is moving forward with its plan to bring all kids back to the classroom. 

Wednesdays are independent learning days for most students in the Tacoma Public Schools district, so the planned sickout did not have much impact, district spokesman Dan Voelpel said. 

The group behind the sickout, Safe Return Tacoma, says that's why they chose Wednesday to take action. 

Voelpel said 61 out of 2,185 certified staff called in sick. A typical Wednesday would be 40-45 teachers calling in sick, he said. 

Teachers in the Safe Return group say they don't believe the district's plan to bring kids back into the classroom is safe until everyone has access to a Covid-19 vaccine. 

The plan will bring back all grade levels over the next month for a hybrid of in-person learning and two days of at-home instruction. Kindergarten, first and second grade students have already begun the hybrid learning model. 

RELATED: Parents and teachers concerned about students returning to classroom

"We hear their concerns, and we share their concerns," Voelpel said. "That's why we've addressed all the issues with our labor partners in weekly and ongoing discussions."

The district says it has followed all requirements and guidance from state and local health departments, along with Department of Labor and Industries standards. 

Teachers say if the district continues to ignore their concerns, not everyone will go back to the classroom. 

Other school districts, including Seattle Public Schools and Highline Public Schools, have delayed their return to in-person learning as they continue negotiating with local teachers unions. 

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