AMMON, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - District 93 is facing new challenges in coping with the pandemic in the classroom.
In a Facebook post dated October 12, Sandcreek Middle School shared, "Help! Sandcreek needs volunteers to come in and supervise classrooms while teachers who have tested positive for COVID teach from home. If you are willing to volunteer, please call Mrs. LaPearle at 208-525-4416 so we can fast-track your volunteer paperwork" with an "Apply Now" button attached at the bottom.
Sandcreek Middle School Principal Yvonne Thurber says there has been no response to the Facebook post yet. She explains 3 of her teachers are not in the classroom due to testing positive for COVID-19.
“We do have a few teachers out that have been diagnosed as positive cases and we’re contact tracing with those folks and letting kids’ parents know if they’ve been in close contact with that teacher,” Thurber said.
She says those teachers haven’t had severe symptoms so they are able to teach from home.
“The problem with that is you can’t leave 30 middle school kids in the classroom with just a computer screen because the teacher can’t control the classroom,” Thurber said.
“Even though that doesn’t seem like very many if you have over 40 teachers in your building like we have, you take that district-wide and it’s that many teachers are missing from every school, that’s a lot of teachers out there that are missing,” Thurber said. “You get to 50 or 60 teachers that are missing, then that becomes problematic to fill those with substitutes.”
Thurber says today there are a total of 6 teachers out ill and of those positions, 4 did not fill with substitutes.
“So we punt when that happens,” Thurber said.
The principal says she has paraprofessionals who work closely with teachers filling in for the ill staff. Teachers who would regularly be planning their schedules are covering in the classrooms as well. She says this becomes problematic because it sets teachers back in their learning plans for the work week.
“It’s just a difficult situation but I’m just really pleased at how my staff, and I know the staff district-wide has reacted, and how it’s just kind of all hands on deck,” Thurber said. “They’ve been really good about doing what they need to do to make sure school can go on.”
Thurber says frequently changing classes throughout the day is one advantage of secondary school. She says teachers are usually 6 feet away from their students and don’t spend more than 15 minutes in close contact with students, as Eastern Idaho Public Health has mentioned as a concern for spreading the coronavirus.
“We’ve had a few student cases. We’ve had to postpone our wrestling season for one week because we had a couple positive cases on our wrestling team, but that’ll start on Monday,” Thurber said.
The principal says they are trying to operate as close to normal as possible. The kids come to school 4 days a week full time and some students come to school for a half-day on Monday while the other students learn online.
“Other than that, it’s school with masks,” Thurber said.
Each week, the district superintendent meets with Eastern Idaho Public Health to determine what their next school week will look like. Right now, District 93 is staying in Phase 2.
Principal Thurber says quarantining has been a challenging aspect of the school year for her students and her staff. She says exposure to the virus, even if you don’t get sick, leaves many healthy teachers and kids stuck at home, not working or learning.
“One of the things that have been a blessing is that with those Monday partial days, once kids are done quarantining, we can get them back and our teachers don’t have the entire student body in the school on that day so we’ve really been able to dial down and have small group instruction to get those kids caught up,” Thurber said.
Thurber says she thinks the biggest challenge Sandcreek Middle School is facing due to the pandemic is the social and emotional wellbeing of staff and students.
“Typically people are pretty resilient, I think, but COVID is testing that. I think everyone’s nerves are just a little bit shot,” Thurber said. “And so if there was one thing that I would hope that our parents, our teachers, and our kids could do, and we’ve tried to just really remind them is, this is a crummy situation for everybody. And if we can just be kind to each other and to ourselves, I mean, give yourself a break. I think we can all get through it together.”
Thurber says earlier this week, Sandcreek Middle School didn’t have any school bus drivers for 3 of their routes. She says the district leadership team is looking for ways to address this problem including to offer a $500 sign-on bonus and wage increases for bus drivers. Thurber says she thinks some of this funding is coming from the COVID relief funds distributed to schools. She says there were a few days within the last couple of weeks where the district couldn’t run secondary routes.
“I was tickled at how many kids got to school. I mean, traffic was ridiculous because the parents really rallied and got kids here. And so we didn’t see very much of a dip in attendance, at least at Sandcreek, on those days. So that was great,” Thurber said. “We appreciated parents doing whatever they needed to do to get the neighborhood rounded up and get them to school.”
Principal Thurber says the bus driver shortage poses a serious threat to schools.
“If we can’t get kids to school, we can’t have school,” Thurber said.
You can apply for bus driver positions for District 93 here.