As we navigate through the 2020-2021 school year, I continue to hear remarks about the number of communications sent out most days reporting district positive cases of COVID-19. Over the past few weeks our positive cases and quarantine numbers have steadily increased. Since the beginning of the school year we have had approximately 800 students and 100 staff members in quarantine. As of today (November 30), we have 81 students and 17 staff members in quarantine. Due to the recent changes to the statewide masking guidelines, availability of antigen test kits, and the implementation of the 9-12 hybrid learning format, these numbers have started to decline at the high school. Unfortunately, prior to Thanksgiving break, the trends within the middle school and elementary buildings caused us to make adjustments to the learning format in these two buildings. District COVID-19 data can be found on our COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated daily.
There is still much uncertainty ahead. We started this week in the hybrid learning format at the Middle School and High School and in the virtual format at the elementary. Our ultimate goal is to get students and staff out of quarantine, healthy, and back to onsite learning with a virtual option for parents who choose to keep their children home. Although this is the goal, the reality of our situation is that things may not get back to normal anytime soon. To our parents who work outside the home, there is the potential for more classroom, building, or district closures; and transitions to and from hybrid or distance learning throughout the upcoming months. Please think about and prepare personal contingency plans should more classroom, building, or district closures become necessary.
Based on positive test and quarantine numbers mid-week, we will likely be in the position to make another abrupt decision to continue in the hybrid learning format at the secondary level, virtual at the elementary level, or to come back onsite as desired. The main factor will remain teacher coverage, which includes substitute teacher availability. While the goal is to return to full PK-12 onsite instruction next Monday, December 7, we will continue to monitor our staff and student COVID-19 numbers and quarantines. Should the conditions warrant it, we will use discretion as to if and when to remain in temporary virtual/hybrid learning or to return to traditional onsite instruction. Once again, teacher coverage will remain the main factor in the decision-making process.
Data indicates that for July 4th, Labor Day, and Halloween, the number of positive cases in our area increased 10-14 days after these events. Because of that, we ask for your continued help as we return from Thanksgiving break and prepare to enter the Christmas season. Health professionals are urging significantly limiting your social circles during the holidays.
We are doing the very best we can in meeting our staffing challenges which, in our experience, primarily have been caused by quarantines and isolations from outside of school exposure. In a non-COVID year, school districts struggle with the availability of substitute teachers at peak times throughout the winter. The pandemic has reduced the available pool of substitute teachers. This has led us to find new and creative ways to cover our classrooms, including moving administrative personnel, instructional coaches, counselors and librarians from their assignments to be used as substitute teachers. We are exhausting every possible option to meet our staffing challenges, but if we get an increase in positive cases and quarantines from outside exposures over the next several weeks, we will have to temporarily move back into hybrid or virtual learning in some or all of our schools. None of us want that to happen because learning virtually is not as effective as learning onsite. However, we are doing our best to make the virtual/hybrid option as effective as possible while we operate a school district during a pandemic. We make these temporary modifications based on health department data and recommendations. The health and safety of our students and staff will always be the impetus for all decisions. As we move closer to Christmas, we ask that you and your children critically think about the personal interactions outside of your immediate family as we all develop ways to create responsible and safe social settings.
It has been quite a semester thus far. Thank you for your continued patience and grace. #GoTigers!!!