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January 26, 2022

Schools plagued by mass absences as classes return

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The new year has brought with it larger-than-average absence rates as students throughout Santa Cruz County return to in-person instruction. 

Since Jan. 6, there have been 1,387 positive Covid-19 cases out of roughly 16,000 teachers and students tested, a positivity rate of around 8.6%, according to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.

In Pajaro Valley Unified School District, a total of 3,088 students were absent on Thursday, an 84% attendance rate and roughly 10% higher than previous years on the same date.

“We’re seeing low attendance and increasing numbers of positive cases in our schools,” said County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah. 

He added that he expects to see increased numbers of positive cases after the County Office of Education and the County Health Services Agency on Wednesday added a testing site at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and more results begin to come in.

“We’re doing everything we can to move things forward,” Sabbah said.

Schools countywide are also continuing to grapple with teacher and staffing shortages that have been occurring since the school year began.

Sabbah says that in many schools, Teachers on Special Assignment, counselors and administrators are stepping into classrooms to fill in as substitutes.

“Everyone is working really hard to minimize the disruptions,” he said. “It’s all hands on deck at this point—anybody who’s certificated is going to be ready to sub in the classroom.”

Aptos High School has canceled its extracurricular indoor activities for the week, a move that Sabbah says his office supports.

“We’re recommending, generally speaking, that indoor activities not proceed,” he said. “That’s the recommended protocol at this point.”

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Nelly Vaquera-Boggs says that, while teachers are happy to be back in the classroom, they are also nervous about the Omicron variant of Covid-19 that local health officials said Thursday is the culprit behind the recent surge.

“They are definitely being cautious,” she said. “With this variant being so highly contagious, there is a lot of anxiety being in a classroom with multiple students.”

According to Vaquera-Boggs, there were 101 teachers absent on Thursday, and 53 classes without a substitute. All teachers have received KN95 masks, and more are coming for students, she added.

It’s not clear what will happen locally if the staffing problems worsen. While the California legislature has limited school closures and remote learning, schools can move to remote learning if there are not enough teachers and subs to fill absences.

The district has not yet considered such a move, since staffing levels are still relatively stable. 

“But it’s a conversation we may have to have,” she said.


For information about vaccines and testing, myturn.ca.gov. For information on masking, visit bit.ly/3I6sAtc. For local information, visit santacruzcoe.org/coviddashboards.

[This story has been slightly edited to clarify Vaquera-Boggs’ statement about Thursday’s absences. — Editor]

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