Michiana school districts battle with Covid-19 absences to students and staff

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:45 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -16 News Now is digging deeper as schools in Michiana grapple with student and staff absences due to Covid-19.

The South Bend Community School Corporation Chief Academic Officer Bandon White says they’ve felt the impact of the pandemic recently, seeing increased absences for both students and staff since the end of winter break.

While they haven’t had to transition any schools to virtual learning due to these absences, they are using district staff and borrowing employees from other schools to fill in the gaps.

White says preexisting staffing issues make it even more difficult to overcome these absences due to positive Covid-19 cases and close contacts.

They’re trying out new strategies like providing rapid tests for students, increasing vaccination sites at the schools, and using virtual tools to keep students in class even if the primary teacher is out to get ahead of these pandemic era challenges.

“Whenever we have a situation where a teacher is not able to be with their students, that’s a concern. When a student has to be out of class four or five days, that’s a concern because they’re missing valuable in-person instruction,” White said.

Niles Community Schools moved to remote instruction for Thursday and Friday this week.

Superintendent Dr. Dan Applegate issued a letter to parents on Wednesday saying transportation staffing issues make it impossible to get students to school.

He says rising Covid-19 cases are partially to blame for the issues.

The superintendent says they partner with a company called First Student to bus kids to school, which was already dealing with staff shortages in general.

The rising Covid-19 cases and close contacts are one of the factors Dr. Applegate says pushed this issue to the point where they had to switch to virtual learning.

He says absences from surgeries, and non-Covid-19 related illnesses also added to the low number of drivers.

He says absences from students and staff due to Covid-19 or close contacts are also growing.

“Yeah we are seeing that, and one of the things we’re really seeing is a lot of household contacts. So, about 40-50% of our quarantines are associated with household contacts--mom, dad, brother, or sister have tested positive. So, the student has to be quarantined and cannot attend school,” he said.

After school activities still went on as planned and Niles Community School students will be back in the classroom on Tuesday, after having Monday off for MLK day.

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