Wright City schools struggle with staff shortages due to illness

Derrick Forsythe, Correspondent
Posted 1/21/22

Significant staff shortages in recent weeks have prompted changes in the daily operations of the Wright City R-II School District. Since the return from winter break, teacher attendance has wavered …

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Wright City schools struggle with staff shortages due to illness

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Significant staff shortages in recent weeks have prompted changes in the daily operations of the Wright City R-II School District. Since the return from winter break, teacher attendance has wavered between 85 to 88 percent due to COVID-19 illnesses.

“To compound that more, our fill rates for substitutes is less than 50 percent,” noted R-II Superintendent Dr. Chris Berger. “Our staff is really stepping up to cover those classes.”

At times, classes have needed to be combined in the library so one teacher could provide coverage for all of them. Berger said this method is not sustainable for the long term. He is hopeful the recent spike in COVID cases will begin to decline before the district has to consider closing temporarily until enough staff can return.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll make it until the surge passes,” said Berger. “The consensus seems to be it'll be February, and I’m determined that we’ll be able to hold on that long. I know if it extends beyond February, we would be on the verge of having to make decisions about how to proceed. Certainly if those numbers for staff fall further, that would be a cause for concern.”

The number of staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 has impacted students on multiple levels. In addition to difficulties covering classes, R-II has also had to contend with the challenge of a limited number of rapid-result COVID tests to keep staff in the building. This has resulted in the district discontinuing its voluntary testing program for students in order to use all available tests for staff.

“We’re still a test-to-stay school, and it was voluntary and parents definitely took advantage of that,” said Berger. “We ran out of tests in about two weeks. Now we are currently not testing students and only testing staff, and that’s in hopes of keeping the doors open.”

This has prompted the district to encourage parents to keep students home if they are showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Berger said many families are reporting they are also struggling to find tests in order to determine if their child is positive for the virus.

“Omicron has proven to be very transmissible, and we’re very confident the transmission is occurring at school,” said Berger. “Our communication to parents for kids to stay home is our best chance of keeping our doors open.”

The district has also eased up on its attendance policies for kindergarten through 12th grade and has suspended all non-MSHSAA activities and clubs while evaluating how they could be held more safely in the near future.

The Wright City School Board has a meeting scheduled for Thursday night, Jan. 20, with plans to discuss how to keep schools open if the surge in cases continues.

“What’s on the table is everything from holding the line and keeping the doors open, to the other side of the spectrum, which is asking if there’s any benefit to closing school for about two weeks,” said Berger. “As long as we don’t put student safety in jeopardy, we just hold the line.”

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