West Ada Education Association urges teachers to call in sick en masse

At least 700 West Ada teachers are requesting sick days for Monday in an attempt to send a message to district leaders that educators don’t feel safe teaching in the red COVID-19 risk classification.

There are so many requests for absences coming in that district leaders don’t think they will be able to cover them.

The West Ada Education Association encouraged members to use sick days en masse Monday during an emergency Zoom meeting Wednesday night. They say they want to amplify their message that it is unsafe to offer hybrid, in-person instruction now that Central District Health has elevated the district to the red COVID-19 risk classification.

CDH uses a color-coded, three-tier rating system of green, yellow and red, with red representing the highest risk level.

West Ada Education Association President Eric Thies encouraged teachers to request the sick day as soon as possible so he could bring numbers to the district’s board meeting Thursday.

“If you choose to do something other than remote in red, these teachers are choosing not to be in school on Monday,” Thies said during Wednesday’s meeting, which an Idaho Education News reporter attended.

West Ada Assistant Superintendent Bret Heller confirmed the looming “sickout” during Thursday’s school board meeting. At last check, Heller said there were more than 700 requests in for sick days on Monday. Heller called the movement significant and said the district does not have enough substitute teachers available to cover the absences.

If the school board agrees to move to remote learning in red, the West Ada Education Association would call off the sickout.

“I can’t stress enough that the goal is to convince the school board that it’s not safe in our schools and we should be remote,” Thies told West Ada Education Association members.

“The only approach that’s left is this level of work action, and I know that some of our members may not support this and I am sorry.”

Thies said he talked to the West Ada Education Association executive board before Wednesday’s meeting.

“It is not me asking this, it is the association asking this,” he said.

West Ada’s movement, which members are referring to as a sickout, spread quickly following Tuesday night’s lengthy and bizarre West Ada School Board, Thies said.

“That’s the bottom line, that red needs to be remote,” Thies said during the meeting.

West Ada began the school year remotely when CDH had the district classified in the red. However, West Ada moved to a hybrid learning model and began phasing in grade levels after CDH moved the district to yellow on Sept. 8. CDH moved all Ada County schools, including West Ada, back to the red on Tuesday.

Thies, who presided over the nearly 30-minute meeting Wednesday night, said there are several reasons the association picked Monday. One reason is that WAEA members want to send a message ahead of Thursday afternoon’s special school board meeting. Thies said the teachers union also wanted to give parents time to plan for the possibility of remote instruction or no instruction on Monday, in the event that so many teachers called in sick and the district could not find enough subs to step in.

“Parents need to be able to plan and prepare,” Thies said. “If we close school tomorrow and Friday that puts a hardship on parents, which is why we’re pushing it on Monday. They’ve got the weekend to figure it out and make plans.”

It was not immediately clear how many teachers would participate in the sickout. At one point, more than 450 people were attending the teacher union’s 30-minute Zoom meeting, though not all of them were teachers. More than a dozen people expressed interest in or support for calling in sick in a chat session. Thies suggested more than 100 teachers could take part.

A West Ada school district survey from earlier this month showed that parents and staff are divided over the question of in-person learning. According to the district, at least 64 percent of the parents who responded to the survey are in favor of students returning to school daily in the yellow and on alternate days in the red. Meanwhile, a majority of staff opposed students attending on alternate days in the red.

The looming sickout is the latest development during a very difficult period for West Ada.

A parent group launched a recall campaign last week targeting all five trustees.

On Tuesday, trustees could not agree on action regarding CDH’s move to the red during a meeting that ran for more than four hours and concluded with Ed Klopfenstein abruptly resigning as chairman of the school board but keeping his seat as a trustee.

West Ada is the state’s largest district based on enrollment and serves about 40,000 students. West Ada had about 2,300 teachers who received evaluations during the most recent school year.

EdNews will follow this developing story today and cover the 3 p.m. board meeting.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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