Nearly 500 Long Beach Unified teachers weren’t in class on Monday in the second week of instruction during a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.

LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou said 496 of the district’s approximately 3,400 teachers were out today, which is roughly 15% of the workforce. Despite the challenges of filling those vacancies, Eftychiou said there are no plans to close schools.

“We still continue to prioritize in-person learning, and we don’t plan to revert to online instruction,” he said.

A week ago, 369 teachers were absent on the first day back to school from the two-week winter break. Teachers Association of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Callopy said that his union’s membership was mostly out because of illness, not because they’re taking sick or vacation time to wait out the surge.

“The sense I’m getting is either people are legitimately sick or they have a household member who is sick and they can’t find a test,” he said.

Teachers aren’t the only ones missing school due to COVID-19, either.

Eftychiou said the district’s student attendance averaged 80.2% district-wide last week, a big drop from the district’s usual 95% attendance rate.

Although that number signifies many of the district’s approximately 69,000 students are staying home, it also shows that the vast majority of students and families prefer remaining on campus, even during a time of record COVID-19 numbers.

In an effort to help staff and students return to campus after an illness, the district and the city of Long Beach opened a new testing clinic at Cabrillo High today. The clinic is specifically for symptomatic staff and students who are looking for a negative test to return to school following an infection or quarantine.

The clinic was well-trafficked on Monday with wait times reaching more than an hour for stretches.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom had pledged to send at-home rapid tests to all California students over the winter break, a deadline that has now been long-missed in Long Beach. Eftychiou said the district anticipated that they’ll receive the at-home tests from the state in the next few days.

The district has tightened regulations around attendance of on-campus events, with indoor sporting events capped at 25% capacity, and it has canceled some in-person events such as the planned Kindergarten Festival.

The district is planning on re-evaluating those restrictions on Jan. 28, and it has also kept other important campus dates on the schedule. Lakewood High had its Winter Formal over the weekend and other high schools have theirs scheduled for the coming weeks. Attendees of these larger events will either have to be vaccinated or provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Teachers, students absent amid COVID surge; district struggles to fill vacancies