Staff and support services disrupted by COVID-19 illness over the holiday weekend could be in need of time to recover and preclude the St. Joseph School District from coming back to class Thursday.

Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of schools, said he expects to review the situation on Wednesday morning — the second day of a total shutdown of classes for those students who had been attending in person — to decide what to do next. It will depend on the latest data regarding the number of employees and others, such as school bus drivers, who have been forced to stay home because they tested positive for COVID-19 and/or have active disease symptoms. Some of the people involved became ill last Friday, so the goal had been to allow five days to pass and get at least some of them back to duty on Wednesday or Thursday morning, Van Zyl said.

“We had quite a few people out on Friday,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to have to monitor and see, and make a decision on where we’re at.”

The district has been in untested waters on the pandemic since December, when the Board of Education ratified what district leaders termed a “sick only” policy framework. People in district buildings don’t have to quarantine now unless they have active symptoms or have recently tested positive for the virus. Nevertheless, the omicron variant has ravaged the community in the last week.

Cases reported Saturday through Tuesday to the St. Joseph Health Department numbered 782, while 140 SJSD students tested positive between Jan. 7 and Jan. 14, the most recent district data point published. A total of 38 staff members tested positive in the same time. Each of these trends show a marked increase from December figures.

LaTonya Williams, executive director of the Bartlett Center, spoke to how her nonprofit services for young people have become taxed in the wake of disruptions at school. Williams is also a member of the SJSD Board of Education.

“I’ve got two times as many children all day long in my youth program,” Williams said. “And, of course, I don’t mind, it’s what my program is there for. The problem is, we’re having the same issue the district is having. Just like every employer in the community, we are understaffed, and I’ve got staff out due to medical leave. Adding in any extra kid is a struggle, let alone a bunch of extra kids. We are doing the best we possibly can in crazy times.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem

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