Rogue Valley schools trying to stay in-person, as Omicron impacts staffing

SOUTHERN OREGON, —For the past four weeks, the Oregon Health Authority has seen a steady increase in cases, as the Omicron variant takes hold across the state. It’s causing a long list of problems for many local schools already, especially when it comes to staffing.

A new year brings new challenges to Rogue Valley schools. With the highly contagious Omicron variant now prevalent in our community, and spreading, schools are holding on, and trying to keep kids in the classroom.

“We are determined to continue to have in-person instruction and keep our schools open,” said Central Point Superintendent, Walt Davenport.

On December 30th, the state set a new record with just over 3500 cases. Each day over the next week, that record was broken, peaking at 10,431  cases on January 6th.

“We aren’t seeing a huge surge but we are seeing enough of an increase that causes us some concern,” said Superintendent Davenport.

Dealing with Omicron is just one piece of the puzzle. Schools are also juggling other issues like staffing, something Superintendent Davenport with the Central Point School District says, keeps him up at night.

“I go to bed at night, and I worry are we going to staff schools the next day,” said Superintendent Davenport. Superintendent Davenport says his main concern is substitute shortages. It was a problem months ago, that Omicron is only exasperating, says Davenport.

“Monday at one of our middle schools, we had four teachers out for Covid related issues and no subs available so we had to fill those spots with the principal, vice-principal, we sent one person over from the district office and one other person transferred from another school to fill those spots,” said Davenport.

Some Portland schools already made the switch to online learning this week.  State schools director, Colt Gill, warned late last week that Omicron could force this change.

“The primary reason is that there are too many staff impacted by COVID-19 to be able to operate schools in person. They’re either ill or quarantined. This will cause challenges for everyone in that school community,” said Colt Gill.

But for now, a majority of Rogue Valley schools remain in-person and want to continue that way.

“We know there’s some anxiety and angst from our students and families and worried about if in-person learning is going to continue and we hope that is the case,” said Superintendent Brent Barry of the Phoenix-Talent School District.

Superintendent Barry says schools just want to maximize in-person learning, as much as possible right now.  School districts received updated guidance from the Oregon Department of Education Monday.

Under the new guidance, staff and students currently isolating with COVID-19, who have completed five days of isolation and are fever-free for 24 hours, with improved or no symptoms, can return to school or work.

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Jenna King is the 6pm and 11pm anchor for NBC5 News. Jenna is a Burbank, CA native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at Oregon she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through her internship with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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