BOISE — Over 700 teachers in the West Ada School District called out sick Monday, leading to the district canceling classes. Now, more than 400 have called out sick for Tuesday.
The outcry came after the decision that West Ada School District will continue to operate in a hybrid model while categorized in the highest risk of spread by Central District Health.
"When is enough, enough? If red is not the line, where is the line?" said West Ada teacher Zach Borman.
Borman is one of the nearly 700 teachers who called out sick Monday, but it's been anything besides a day off work.
"I would basically argue I am sick; this has been the most stressful and terrifying thing of my life," said Borman,
"and yes, I'm sick today, but I've spent the entire morning grading papers."
The decision was met with backlash. Hundreds of Facebook comments came through criticizing teachers for the decision to call out sick Monday.
"The lack of empathy, you can see it too just scrolling out on Facebook, to see some of those comments directed at them is heartbreaking," said a parent in the West Ada School District Chelsey McGee.
Borman has sent emails, spoken at board meetings, and feels that hybrid learning is too much of a risk for the current conditions.
"Especially when we're in the red, and there's no clear communication from the district as to how much risk is at the school at any given moment because we only have district-wide numbers," said Borman.
Part of the criticism over the sick-out has been the impact it has on students.
"I don't think there's a single teacher in this district that's still in this district that doesn't care greatly about the education of their students," said Borman,
"and I'm insulted by anyone that is assuming I'm doing this because I don't care about kids' education."
Parent in the district Kristen Johnson supports the teachers' decision for that very reason.
"It's not that they don't care about these kids; they care about these kids so much, so they're willing to go and fight for these kids safety and their safety," said Johnson.
Johnson says her frustration stems because from the changing information.
"I think that they're telling staff one thing, they're telling teachers one thing, they're telling parents one thing, and students one thing," said Johnson,
"We're getting different versions constantly, and then as soon as you get online, it's changed already; there's no [consistent] communication going on anywhere."
Some parents, like McGee, were frustrated by the lack of transparency months ago and decided to enroll in the virtual schoolhouse from the start.
"Within week one, it already proved that we went with the right one because they were already messing around with things being in levels they shouldn't be for how they're operating," said McGee.
West Ada School Board Trustee Amy Johnson took to Facebook to share her thoughts on the decision she and other board members made.
Her post reads, in part, "At some point every single one of us has to just take a breath and stop reacting to social media or the news — and instead start listening to understand how another is feeling and empathize. There is no silver bullet solution right now and I’ll be the first to admit that it is getting harder and harder as this whole thing continues on—but we really have no other choice."
The sick-out won't last indefinitely, though over 400 teachers have already called out for Tuesday. West Ada has subsequently canceled classes for Tuesday.
"I don't think we should be going in, and I think that we should be doing this until that board meets and they change their plan, but I don't think that's realistically going to happen," said Borman,
"And I don't want to lose my job. I can only take so many sick days in row."
The district had a bumpy start to hybrid learning back in September. However, Borman says remote learning can be successful and less of a risk compared to in-person classes.
"You can walk around at any time in Rocky Mountain high school at lunch, and you'll see kids gathered in groups without masks jumping around each other in groups, laughing and stuff," said Borman,
"I'm not opposed to laughing, part of coming to school is seeing friends and gathering, but that kind of stuff, that is something no doctor, no adviser can control."
Borman says the district has been clear on one thing from the start; kids getting back to school every day depends on the community stopping the spread.
"If you seriously want your kids to get back in school, you have to wear a mask, you have to maintain distance, and you have to take this seriously," said Borman,
"And I look forward to the day I have every one of my students in front of me because the rest of this is a nightmare."
West Ada sent out a letter to students and guardians, saying:
District Administration has been working with the West Ada Education Association to ensure that school can happen on Tuesday. Currently, we have 440 teachers who have called in sick for tomorrow. We are sadly unable to safely hold school tomorrow due to supervision concerns. This includes students enrolled in Virtual School House, and students who would have been learning remotely. We are continuing to work with the West Ada Education Association to find solutions to their concerns so we can hold school Wednesday.Free meals are available to students from 10:50 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at many school locations. You must order before 7 a.m. using the form available on this webpage (https://www.westada.org/FreeMeals [westada.org]) to guarantee a meal is available for you.