SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – As COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant continue to rise, the San Francisco Unified School District faces a potential sickout from teachers Thursday amid a heated debate over safety protocols.

Almost 700 SFUSD teachers and aides called out sick on Wednesday, as schools across the Bay Area are struggling to keep staff in the classrooms after the holiday break.

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A petition circulating online is calling for a teacher sickout on Thursday for San Francisco Unified schools. Organizers said the district needs to do more to protect them during the pandemic.

“You need to talk about the teachers. You need to act like you care about the teachers,” Rori Abernethy told KPIX 5.

The math teacher at Denman Middle School is one of the organizers of the sickout petition. It says the goal is to send a message that if the district doesn’t take their concerns seriously, “we can shut the whole system down. And we will!”

As of late Wednesday, the petition has around 550 signatures so far, though Abernethy said she isn’t sure how many are by teachers or how many will actually participate.

“This is very, very grass roots, site to site, friend to friend, worth of mouth,” Abernethy said.

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According to Abernathy, the union representing teachers, United Educators of San Francisco, was not involved in planning the sickout in any way.

Union representatives did hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon asking for additional safety measures in the classrooms including more PPE and distributing rapid COVID tests to staff as well as students.

“School districts must have a plan of action to keep everyone safe, and I’m sad to say that that is not the case here,” said union president Cassondra Curiel.

Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews responded with a statement saying, “SFUSD continues to follow public health guidance and schools have remained low risk settings by following proper safety protocols.”

District leaders said they are aware of the plans for Thursday’s sickout and are planning for multiple scenarios.

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SFUSD will also hold a meeting Thursday with the teachers union to discuss safety protocols moving forward. The sickout was intentionally planned to coincide with that meeting.