Teachers stage ‘sick out’ after Pennsylvania high school student dies of COVID
Dozens of teachers at Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania staged a mass ‘sick out’ following the death of 17-year-old student Alayna Thach, who contracted COVID-19 in early December and passed away the week after. SCREENGRAB OF CBS PHILADELPHIA VIDEO Last week, a Pennsylvania high schooler died after contracting COVID-19 in early December. Alayna Thach was a 17-year-old senior at Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia. She loved to sing, dreamed of being a life coach, and was a big fan of the K-Pop group BTS, her obituary said. Alayna was an honor roll student who was touring colleges shortly before she died and was scheduled to get her COVID-19 vaccine in January, McClatchy News reported. She’s survived by her parents and her two siblings.
And on Dec. 20, her death compelled at least 40 teachers at Olney Charter to call out sick in protest against the school’s COVID-19 protocol, which they say didn’t do enough to protect Alayna or other students and staff, Fox 29 reported. The school denied it wasn’t enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols strongly enough, saying in a statement to McClatchy News that “Olney has a very strong set of safety protocols in place, and we are dismayed by the teachers’ attempt to manipulate public opinion in the wake of the tragic death of an Olney student.” But the mass “sick out” happened after staff and students had already pleaded with the school’s administration to hold classes for the rest of the semester online, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sarah Kenney, a 10th grade African American History teacher at Olney Charter and vice president of the local chapter of the Alliance of Charter School Employees, said lunchtime was particularly troublesome at the school. Without social distancing or assigned seating in the cafeteria, contract tracing proved difficult, she told The Inquirer in a Dec. 17 story. “There isn’t really a good protocol for how it all works,” Kenney told The Inquirer. “We think it’s safest to be virtual until they can come up with a plan for increased safety, just to ensure that something like this never happens again at our school.” Aspira, Inc., the company that manages the charter school, said in a statement that it had implemented a variety of preventative measures and said that the teachers were “demanding additional safety protocols without citing any relevant detailed claim – and, despite the fact the school administration has taken thorough open measures to protect the health and safety of students and staff.” “Olney and its parent, Aspira, Inc., are providing free testing for all Olney HS students, families, faculty and staff” Dec. 22 and 23, Ken Kilpatrick, a spokesman for Aspira, Inc., said in an email to McClatchy News. Top headlines in your inbox Get all the news you need to start your day.
Kenney said in a statement on behalf of AFT’s local chapter that the union “unequivocally did not organize what management are labeling a ‘mass call out,’ ” but maintained that the school should have been more assertive in its COVID-19 response. “Alayna’s death should have been a wake-up call for Olney Charter’s corporate managers at Aspira; a sign that we need a more robust COVID mitigation strategy, which should include testing, more nursing staff, a plan for physical distancing in the lunchroom, more stringent mask compliance, and a vaccine clinic on premises,” the statement said. Alayna’s family expressed their solidarity with the teachers in a statement, according to CBS Philadelphia. Olney Charter switched to remote learning on Monday, Dec. 20 – two days after Alayna’s funeral services – and said that classes will remain virtual during the week after Christmas break, or from Jan. 10 to Jan. 14, Aspira told McClatchy News. The protests and criticism seem to stem from the grief that students and staff are experiencing in the wake of Alayna’s death, the Inquirer reported. “She was a very sweet young lady,” Latanya Dunaway-Clement, Alayna’s senior seminar teacher, told the Inquirer. “She was loved by everyone. This is so hard for all of us to be going through at this moment.” Over 1,800 students are enrolled at Olney Charter, the school said in a statement. The directory of staff on the school’s website lists at least 114 teachers, including people labeled as “instructional assistant.”
Read more at: https://www.centredaily.com/news/state/pennsylvania/article256774252.html#storylink=cpy