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District plans for possible temporary closures

by HANNAH NEFF
Staff Writer | January 14, 2022 1:09 AM

With rising rates of absences, the Coeur d’Alene School District announced the possibility of temporary closures due to staff shortages from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

In an email sent to parents Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Shon Hocker said staff absences due to the high rate of illness in the community have placed a strain on the district’s ability to adequately staff some schools and programs.

One in six teachers requested a substitute this week. On Thursday, 104 of the district’s 600 teachers were absent, and only 60% were covered by a substitute. It was also the fifth consecutive day with more than 80 teacher absences.

Hocker said since returning from winter break, absentee rates have climbed among staff and students.

According to Panhandle Health District, Kootenai County has 33,716 COVID cases. On Thursday, 220 new COVID cases were reported in the PHD.

All five northern counties are in the substantial risk level as new cases are rising, which is straining hospital staff and resources.

"The district also is doing the best we can with reinforcing the number of substitute staff available, through pay increases and incentives,” Hocker said in the Thursday email to parents. “Unfortunately, we generally have dozens of unfilled positions across the district any given day.”

The School PLUS child care program at Fernan STEM Academy was closed Thursday because of staffing shortages. The district is closely monitoring several elementary schools that are experiencing high staff absentee rates.

While other staff in the district have stepped in to fill gaps, Hocker said that only goes so far. Substitute teachers have also been affected by the high rate of illness in the community.

Hocker said the district will endeavor to remain open and operating as usual, even with staff shortages. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult, so parents should be prepared for the possibility of some temporary building or program closures if sufficient staffing cannot be provided to meet the health and safety needs of students.

If necessary, he said some buildings may need to switch to distance learning for a short time in the event they are unable to resolve a staff shortage for that site.

“We will continue to have in-person learning in our district to the extent staffing permits,” Hocker said in the email. “Should we reach the point we do not have enough employees and subs to keep a building open, we will switch to distance learning for that school, with students logging in from home.”

Hocker said distance learning could last anywhere from a few days to a week or longer until the staffing situation is resolved.

“Although staffing still will be a challenge, distance learning will give us more flexibility in how we engage with students with fewer teachers on hand,” Hocker said. “We will give you as much advance notice as possible before we switch to distance learning.”

To keep the schools open for in-person learning, the district requests parents keep students home if they are showing symptoms of illness or not feeling well, and strongly recommends the use of masks to reduce the spread of viruses.

Post Falls, Lakeland and Kootenai school districts could not be reached for comment by press time.


This story has been updated.

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In this Sept. 7 photo, kindergartner Wylee Nyist crosses the road with Arielle Henyel and older brother Vincent to get to the first day of class at Winton Elementary School. The Coeur d'Alene School District announced Thursday the possibility of temporary closures of buildings and programs due to staff shortages from COVID-19 and other illnesses. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Hocker

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