TWIN FALLS — As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in the Magic Valley and throughout the state, the Twin Falls School District has also seen a number of COVID-19 cases throughout the first few weeks of this school year.
While concerns are growing among school officials, they are planning to stick to the original mitigation plan which does not enforce any strict COVID-19 protocols. Instead, the district will continue to encourage safety precautions, giving students and staff the option to follow them if they'd like.
Still, the impact is being felt in the school from COVID-19 and other outlying issues. To date, there have been 265 staff and students out with the virus. Other kids have been absent due to quarantining after contact with someone who had COVID-19. Some have been out with other illnesses.
“We don’t have mitigation strategies that we had in place last year, although we are highly recommending them," said Eva Craner, the Public Information Officer for the Twin Falls School District. "Then also there is a different variant circulating in our community so those two things probably play a role in why the numbers are higher than they were last year.”
While the primary concern continues to be student's safety, the district is facing another challenge, which is not having enough substitute teachers when others are out sick.
“Right now we have about 30 fewer guest teachers than we would have in a typical school year, for whatever reason that might be," said Craner. "So that really adds to the strain, when folks have to be out sick, sometimes they’re out for a longer period of time. We just don’t have the bodies to have those people in the classrooms.”
The district attributes the staffing shortage to the fact that many substitute teachers are people who are retired, and they don't feel comfortable enough to be in an environment where exposure is possible.
Officials also acknowledged that there are many more full-time job opportunities at the moment so people are taking those positions rather than a part-time job.
While the school board does not currently have it on their agenda to change COVID-19 protocols, if a severe outbreak were to occur where changes needed to be made, protocols would likely not be implemented across the district.
“If we have one spot that really has a hotspot and it seems like this is really making its way through the students, or maybe we have really absenteeism with our staff members," said Craner. "We would make changes specifically for a school rather than the whole district.”