WENATCHEE — Wenatchee School District Superintendent Paul Gordon made it clear that the district’s top priority is to keep as many classrooms open and staffed as possible.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, administrators painted a picture of staffing shortages and student absences in the district.
“We are doing everything in our power to keep our schools open,” Gordon said during the meeting. “This is no longer about mitigation strategies. This is 100% about staffing.”
Gordon said staffing classrooms is Wenatchee’s top priority. Both Executive Director of Learning and Teaching Mike Lane and Assistant Director Kory Kalahar taught classes Tuesday.
Kelly Lopez, the district’s director of Human Resources, provided more detail. On Tuesday, the district had 120 staff absences. On Monday, the district had 135 staff absences. Staffing numbers are similar to a month ago. On Dec. 6, Wenatchee had 117 absences. On Dec. 7, there were 139 absences.
The district provides incentives and additional payments to staff, teachers and substitutes filling in for other district personnel.
“While we do need more subs, it’s not that we have less than we’ve ever had,” Lopez said Tuesday. “It’s just that we have considerably more absences and our subs are stepping up to the plate.”
Absences have increased among the districts roughly 7,000 students, too. On Dec. 6, 740 students were absent. On Jan. 5, 1,088 Wenatchee students missed class. Monday, just over 1,200 students were absent from class.
“The difference between December and January is roughly 300-and-something students if you average that out,” Lopez said. “And that’s obviously due to the new variant. It’s highly contagious, as everybody knows.”
Some individual classes have shifted online. Lopez said an elementary classroom moved to remote learning Tuesday after seven of the 22 students could attend class. Three students had tested positive, several others were waiting on results and multiple felt sick.
“That’s an example of the process that we’re going to be taking if we need to make those decisions,” Lopez said. “It really is a group effort and it’s looking at numbers.”
New guidance issued over the weekend from the Department of Health will help, Lopez said. Under these guidelines, the quarantine period for students who tested positive students was reduced to five days. Those over age 18 don’t need to quarantine after exposure as long as they have received a booster.
Gordon also signed a memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Health for the district to participate in the “test to stay” program. Lopez said once implemented, those exposed can immediately return after a negative test. Those exposed will also be tested two additional times over five days.
“It also means that most of our quarantines will only be five days. Five or six days,” Lopez said. “Our goal, with all of this, is to keep our kiddos in class.”