Palo Alto

Hundreds of Parents Step Up to Help Palo Alto Schools During COVID-19 Surge

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Nearly every school district in the Bay Area is struggling to find enough healthy teachers during the COVID-19 surge to fill its classrooms each day.

But in Palo Alto, hundreds signed up to volunteer just hours after the school district pleaded for help.

Nearly 700 parents have signed up to help the Palo Alto Unified School District this week. Some parents said they are ready to start, while others question the solution and suggest schools should return to virtual learning.

Jen Wiener is a parent scheduled to start volunteering on Wednesday. She will be directing traffic in hallways at a middle school.

"I thought it was a great idea," Wiener said. "I was so glad we are thinking of good solutions to work together to keep the schools open."

The Palo Alto Unified School District, like many others in the nation, have been dealing with staffing shortages. The district is missing more than 100 support staff and up to 80 teachers a day -- positions officials said are going unfilled because there is not enough substitutes.

In a video posted to YouTube, Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin asked parents to become school volunteers. He said the recent omicron surge has impacted staffing levels and the district needs necessary roles to be filled by volunteers.

Schools continue to scramble for answers -- how to keep students safe and how to keep campuses open. On the Peninsula, one school district is so short that it sent an SOS to parents, and those parents responded. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to one of those volunteers.

"Until the surge is over, we need our community, one Palo Alto, to volunteer like never before," Austin said. "We need help in areas most people don't even know exist. It won't be glamorous. Many of the essential jobs that occur everyday to support your kids aren't glamorous."

Palo Alto Unified says volunteers must be vaccinated and can get tested for COVID-19 at school testing clinics.

The parents will be helping with light custodial work, food services, directing COVID testing lines and even assisting substitute teachers when classrooms need to be combined.

"I have so much gratitude to our families," Austin said.

Parents in Cupertino also answered to a cry for help from teachers.

Parent Alejandra Chavez said she offered to help her district, but also wonders if kids would be better off going to virtual learning.

"You don't know who your kids is going to get in the classroom one day and who they are getting the next day because teachers are absent on a daily basis," Chavez said.

In San Francisco, parents are signing up to pass out rapid COVID tests and PPE.

Some of the volunteers said the goal is to help school staff and students feel supported and ease the burden in these difficult times.

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