'All hands on deck’

Meghan Flynn
Garden City High School students make their way through the cafeteria lines during a lunch period earlier this school year.

The USD 457 Board of Education discussed the impact of COVID-19 in the school district at Monday’s regular meeting.

Assistant superintendent Glenda LaBarbera said there is an upward trend in positive coronavirus cases in the community and in the district.

It’s affecting student attendance, LaBarbera said. In October, there was a large uptick in absences due to COVID-19.

“Our weekly attendance rate we’ve been holding pretty steady throughout the year in the 90% attendance rate in all of our buildings, and then toward the end of October we took a dip that is continuing,” she said.

Absences have also been increasing for staff, LaBarbera reported.

“Unfortunately, we're seeing that upward trend in our classroom staff and that is resulting in what we are seeing now in red buildings and red classrooms because we're not able to keep them staffed,” she said.

In the past week, from Nov. 1-5, the district has had 30 new cases, LaBarbera said. She expects to beat that number this week, as the district has had 20 total positive cases as of Monday. Nine of those were staff.

“We’re already well on our way in just one day at beating that positivity rate,” she said.

The increase in coronavirus cases in the community and in the school district has also affected the substitute teacher pool, although there has been a strain since the beginning of the school year, said Heath Hogan, USD 457 human resources director and deputy superintendent.

“It’s definitely a strain on our current staff members to fill unfilled positions of vacant positions that we have on a daily basis,” he said.

Board member Janene Radke voiced concern about staff burnout for the consistent number of staff filling in as substitutes for classes.

Hogan said that is a concern.

“They've just done an exceptional job to get us to where we're at right now to have 10 weeks of school, but you are right, that is definitely right, that is a valid concern,” he said.

LaBarbera said any adult in the buildings has helped to supervise classes when a teacher is out or Zoom-ing in. Some teachers are Zoom-ing in even if they have tested positive for the coronavirus or are quarantined because of their significant other.

“We're pulling any available adult to go in and supervise the class while the teacher Zooms in,” she said. “We've never done anything like that before, but we are all hands on deck right now and people are really stepping up to help.”