Talawanda School District (TSD) remained closed through the end of the week, asking students and staff return on Monday, Jan. 24 due to staffing issues and COVID-19 cases.
This week's closure was the second time in two weeks TSD has cited COVID-related absences as a reason for an interruption in its in-person classes. However, this time, TSD did not provide remote instruction for students, instead relying on its calamity days.
In a Facebook post on TSD’s page, Superintendent Edward Theroux said the decision was due to a combination of the extreme shortage of substitute teachers across all of the district’s schools and the number of students sick with seasonal illnesses or COVID-19.
Holli Morrish, the director of Communications and Public Relations at TSD, said the potential upswing in COVID-19 cases was an initial cause for shutting down.
“We knew when we came back from the holiday and we were hearing about this new strain of the virus that we thought we were going to potentially have our numbers go up and have some quarantine,” Morrish said. “Plus, this time of year we're dealing with all kinds of other illnesses— people have colds, people have the flu [and there are] sinus infections going around.”
However, it was the extreme staffing shortage that ultimately sealed the deal for Talawanda to take the two days off.
“The bottom line is we don't have enough employees that are well right now that can serve our students,” Morrish said. “We have a total lack of substitute teachers, educational assistants, and food service workers, as well as drivers to be able to come in and fill those gaps that we're experiencing.”
Theroux has previously said he would close a school if its absence rate hit the 20%.
“We just saw those numbers [COVID-19 positive cases] creeping up above the 18, 19 and then get to the 20%,” Morrish said. “It's just been a gradual increase … but we've been hovering just underneath there for about a week. So we've been monitoring it every day.”
Morrish said neighboring school districts like Hamilton City Schools have also shut down due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of substitutes.
“The idea is that having these extra days — plus the weekend — will let people recover from COVID and or other winter illnesses that they might be experiencing,“ Morrish said, “and then be able to come back to school on Monday and kind of get back to regular business.”