Most school districts are discouraging parents from coming to school during the omicron surge to prevent schools from closing. Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin on Sunday, Jan. 9, sent out an all-points bulletin, pleading with them to volunteer in schools to keep them open.

“We need your help to volunteer as never before,” he said in a video that was emailed to parents with a form they could fill out that would be sent to their children’s principals. “If you are able, please answer.”

The email went out Sunday at 9 p.m. By 9 a.m. Monday, 360 parents responded, Austin said. Jobs include support for COVID testing, signing in students at lunch, recess duty, light custodial duties, work in the office preparing materials and classroom support.

YouTube video
Superintendent Don Austin calls on the community to support the school district through volunteerism. (Video courtesy of Palo Alto Unified School District/YouTube)

“The jobs won’t be glamorous, Austin said. “Many of the essential jobs we perform every day for your kids aren’t glamorous.”

As in other districts, Palo Alto has been hit hard with teacher and staff shortages. Austin pledged to keep the schools open unless authorities force the district to shut down. That’s unlikely in Santa Clara County. Dr. Sara Cody, the county public health officer, and Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County superintendent of schools, sent a notice to superintendents Friday urging them not to close during the surge and switch to remote learning. “We’ve learned that in-person education is what (students) need, and remote learning doesn’t support their mental health, emotional health and academic well-being nearly the way that in-person learning does,” Cody said.

Under the strict rules that the Legislature imposed in this year’s state budget, districts that close schools due to COVID must document that they consulted with county officials before seeking reimbursement from the California Department of Education.

With parents’ help, “we’re going to tell (students) they don’t have to worry about closing for staff shortages,” Austin said in the video.

This story originally appeared in EdSource.