After a late summer lull in reported positive COVID cases in Teton County, the number on Eastern Idaho Public Health’s dashboard has started to rise again, and many of the cases are coming from the school district.
Monday night the Teton School District board of trustees voted to close Driggs Elementary on Wednesday and Thursday due to the outbreak.
As of Friday afternoon there had been 11 total positive cases of COVID in the school district since the start of school. On Friday the district reported that 77 students and staff members are in quarantine, either because they tested positive or because of a possible exposure to someone who tested positive. Over the weekend a third positive case was confirmed among the Driggs Elementary School staff and two more among the student body. Only Basin High has no reported cases yet.
During a special school board meeting on Monday evening, Driggs Elementary Principal Allen Carter told the school board that that morning, seven teachers, one staff member, and one paraprofessional were out due to sickness. Not all of them were absent because they had tested positive for COVID, but the school is now extremely short on teachers, paraprofessionals, and substitutes.
“Our staff has been rallying and covering all the extra duties, but it’s wearing on them, they’re starting to hit the wall,” Carter said.
Three Driggs Elementary classes are quarantined as of right now. On Monday night, Eastern Idaho Public Health reported 27 active cases in Teton County, but there are several test results from the school district that are pending, which might lead to another class in isolation, Carter said.
The school district warned in a Friday press release that substitutes are desperately needed to fill in for staff members who are in quarantine.
While Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme asked the board members to consider closing Driggs Elementary and Rendezvous Upper Elementary School starting on Tuesday, they pushed back on that, saying that such a quick decision felt like a worst-case scenario and put parents in a hard position. Rendezvous Elementary Principal Kristin Weston noted that staffing levels were adequate at her school for the most part. The board agreed to close only Driggs Elementary for Wednesday and Thursday of this week; Friday is a professional development day so students already won’t be at school.
The superintendent said he and the principal will decide, hopefully by Saturday afternoon, whether the elementary school will reopen Monday.
The district’s reopening plan states that if a student or staff member tests positive, “the district will work directly with Eastern Idaho Public Health to determine next steps. After understanding the student or staff member’s interactions within the school environment through a close contact investigation, the district along with Eastern Idaho Public Health will make decisions about quarantining, additional testing or classrooms transitioning to home-based learning.” Woolstenhulme said at Monday’s meeting that he wanted each school administrator to hone in on the districtwide plan and focus on strategies and solutions on a school-specific basis.
“That gives us a week and a half before the regular board meeting on Oct. 12 to bring a concrete plan of school-by-school operations,” he said about Saturday’s decision on whether to reopen Driggs Elementary on Monday.
The board also voted to change its phasing plan from the numeric criteria approved in August. In the reopening plan, it currently states that if the number of active cases in Teton County rises above 20 per 10,000 people for three days, the district will shift to an alternate day schedule. But shortly after that plan was approved, the health district changed its “high” risk level to 50 active cases per 10,000 people. Now the district’s plan will not have active case numbers as criteria for changing phases; it will simply align with public health risk levels.