Helix charter school closes temporarily because it doesn’t have enough staff to open

A San Diego-area charter school is switching to online learning for the rest of this week because too many of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Helix Charter High in La Mesa appears to be one of the first few schools in San Diego County, and one of many nationwide, that are closing temporarily amid a surge in COVID cases driven by the Omicron variant.

Helix Director Kevin Osborn announced Tuesday that the school will teach live classes via Zoom starting Wednesday, the school’s first day back from winter break, until Friday. The school expects to reopen on Monday.

The Omicron surge is straining schools’ ability to stay open as they return from winter break this week. So many staff are testing positive for COVID or are staying home in quarantine that schools are struggling to find enough adults to teach students, educators say.

Many school districts that resumed classes on Monday or Tuesday said they have not had to close schools yet but are filling in for absent teachers with substitutes or central office staff.

Education and political leaders stress that it is vital schools remain open as much as possible because students have already gone through a lot of disruption during past school closures, and they need access to in-person learning and socialization.

Osborn said Omicron has raised several health concerns for Helix. Hospitalizations are increasing, and unvaccinated people are more at risk.

More than 40 percent of Helix students are unvaccinated, Osborn said.

“We are concerned about the health risks associated with students and staff contracting the virus and potentially exposing their unvaccinated siblings and children under 5 who are not eligible to be vaccinated,” Osborn wrote in a letter to families.

The school is encouraging students and staff to get tested for COVID before coming back to campus on Monday. The school is offering on-campus testing Thursday and Friday from 7:30 a.m. — 9:30 a.m. and will continue to offer on-campus testing throughout the semester.

The school is also strongly encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated and boosted, Osborn said.

While the school remains closed, Helix is providing pick-up breakfast and lunches to students on Wednesday through Friday.

Helix enrolls about 2,500 students, about half of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

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