Schools in Campbell County are committed to staying open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but growing shortages in trained faculty because of quarantine restrictions could change that, according to local school officials.
On Monday, COVID-19 numbers showed a marked increase in lab-confirmed cases across Campbell County, climbing from 1,601 to 2,264 within the past two weeks. The distribution of those cases showed an uptick among all Campbell County age groups, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
But there is one age group, however, that has retained the highest number of lab-confirmed cases these past two weeks: residents 18 years of age and younger.
As things stand, public school age residents account for 624, about 28%, of all lab-confirmed cases in Campbell County. This is nearly double the number of cases for residents between the ages of 40 and 49, the age group next in line for the highest number of lab-confirmed cases.
Two weeks ago, the state-wide numbers painted a different picture. Then, the highest number of lab-confirmed cases for the state were seen in residents between 19 and 29 years of age.
As of Nov. 23, state-wide statistics are now in line with Campbell County: 5,528 lab- confirmed cases have come from residents 18 years and younger, the highest numbers for any age group in the state.
Still, the Campbell County School District (CCSD) remains strong on their stance to remain open with in-person instruction, despite the number of students quarantined doubling between mid-October and November, CCSD Superintendent Alex Ayers informed the school board earlier this month.
Things could change, however, moving forward, Ayers stated in a follow-up interview.
The district could consider partially closing some schools and possibly closing some individual schools all together, but they will not seek to close schools districtwide, Ayers said.
Bob Tranas, executive director of Children’s Developmental Services (CDS), reiterated Ayers’ desire to try to keep schools fully opened in a recent interview regarding CDS’s plans moving forward in the pandemic.
In the past two weeks, the COVID-19 outlook within the CDS has improved, he said. While there have been a few lab-confirmed cases and several students out on quarantine, CDS has seen a few lab-confirmed cases and has had several students out in quarantine.
But as of Friday, Nov. 20, student attendance at CDS has risen by 3%.
Tranas said that closing CDS directly because of COVID-19 is not part of the plan, despite a letter from CDS that was sent to parents advising them that the impacts of the virus on schools and the community are changing rapidly.
“Therefore, our action plans and response must evolve. Rest assured we are taking all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of all children, families, and staff in order to continue providing essential services,” the letter read.
Those precautions include staff wearing masks and sanitizing equipment that is used daily by students. Hand-washing stations are prevalent around the facility as well and parents cannot take their child to class anymore either but must leave them at the front door.
Additionally, those precautions could include halting all in-person instruction, where classes would be moved online, according to the letter. Tranas, however, remains optimistic that this will not happen.
Still, CDS and the CCSD both face similar problems, especially given the increasing number of lab-confirmed cases around the state: a growing shortage of qualified substitute teachers to account for faculty vacancies when teachers are quarantined.
CDS maintains small class sizes, generally about one teacher for every six students. If too many staff members call in sick or are quarantined, Tranas said, then that could result in the closure of a class until the appropriate number of staff are available.
For the moment, CDS has managed to maintain just enough substitutes to accommodate several staff members being out on quarantine, Tranas said.
“I feel like we’ve been doing a pretty amazing job,” he said.
Like CDS, the school district could also face closures if substitute staffing concerns are not addressed, according to Ayers.
“We’re holding in there,” Ayers said Monday, adding that adequate staffing remains one of the district’s concerns and was addressed at a recent board meeting.
The district is doing everything it can to acceptably accelerate the process for substitute teacher applicants, he said. That could include moving fingerprinting to the beginning of the process as background checks typically take the most time.
In the meantime, the plan is to do everything they can to keep schools in session, Ayers said.
Both Gillette College and University of Wyoming have gone to remote learning.