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Magic Valley school districts prepare for impacts of COVID-19

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 11:34:49-05

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Schools across Idaho are making preparations to address the challenges COVID-19 continues to cause.

From staffing shortages to low student attendance, schools in the Magic Valley are forced to pivot.

After Twin Falls School District’s emergency closure last Friday, officials say things are looking up.

“I think we are cautiously optimistic. We still have all of those back up plans in place, we are still closely monitoring and having those discussions on a daily basis, but just based on the trend line it looks like if next week goes the way that this week goes, there will be some pressure off,” said Eva Craner, spokesperson for TFSD.

Keeping students in the classroom is the goal.

"We really don’t want to have to go to a place where we are back to distance learning, and if we do have to close school, we are hopeful that it would be a short period of time, maybe just one day to regroup," said Craner.

If schools did have to close again, TFSD’s plan is to have one school closure at a time, shifting healthy staff as needed, according to Craner.

However, drops in student attendance are posing new challenges. Student attendance rates are lower than normal with the district currently seeing their attendance drop below 90%. The standard rate for the district is 95%, according to Craner.

“When you have five or ten students in every class that are out sick, teachers have to adapt and make changes to make sure that everyone is getting the instruction and the content that they need,” said Craner.

As a result, the district is incorporating half days to allow teachers additional planning time to put together homework packets, shift instruction and pivot from lost prep time.

Other districts like Jerome School District, are beginning to see cases rise.

The district follows a color coding system that determines what COVID-19 restrictions are in place based on the district’s case numbers.

“The yellow category is when we have over 1% of our staff and students collectively gone from school due to COVID, specifically ones that have tested… We are saying that we will likely be turning to yellow [next week] which means that we will increase quarantine, we want to increase our mitigation efforts to protect our students and staff,” said Wendy Ohlensehlen, curriculum director for JSD.

JSD's COVID-19 updates are available on the website.

While there are not currently plans for a return to distance learning, districts say the proper preparations are in place as a precaution.

During this time, it’s important to keep in mind that times of uncertainty can be difficult for children. If your child is experiencing anxiety, there are ways you can help.

“Talk to your children and give them the space free of judgment to let you know how they’re really doing, to share their fears and anxieties because sometimes just sharing that and holding space for that can be really therapeutic,” said Dr. Paula Griffith, child and adolescent psychiatrist at St. Lukes.

Griffith recommends parents visit this website for more information.

"Sleep schedule, connection, those are the things that help to really build resilience and then, authentic connection, and helping kids have a sense of control over their day and in their lives can be really powerful as well," said Griffith.