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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — As is the case with other schools in the area, the state and the nation — substitute teachers and bus drivers are still in short supply for the Colfax school district.
As of the day of the Colfax Board of Education’s December 20 meeting, 43 Colfax students were in quarantine because of COVID-19, and there were five active cases among students, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, during the school board’s discussion of the back-to-school plan.
So far this year, 117 students have tested positive for the disease, and 20 staff members have tested positive, he said.
The numbers of cases in the school district are worse this year than last year, and that’s with vaccines and booster shots available for adults and for children ages five and up, Yingst said.
Jaci Ackerlund, school board member, asked if students being vaccinated could change the quarantine protocol.
“It could,” Yingst said.
Does the school district have a plan for a change in quarantine protocol? asked Jodi Kiekhafer, school board member.
“Yes,” Yingst said.
Are there still problems with getting substitute teachers and having enough bus drivers? asked Ken Neuburg, school board member.
Since the start of the school year, there has not been one week when all of the bus drivers have been present and able to drive, Yingst said.
There is one substitute bus driver available, and there are three staff members in the building who can fill in when a bus driver is needed, he said.
“Every single day, we have been strapped. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Yingst said.
On weekends and on holidays, Yingst said he receives telephone calls at home that there are bus drivers who will be unable to come to work.
Not all of the bus driver absences have been due to COVID-19 but many of the absences have been because of the coronavirus, he said.
The issue of having enough bus drivers is “an on-going battle” and will be even more difficult now that winter has arrived, Yingst said.
There are days when the school district has not had enough teachers as well, he said, adding that principals have had to cover classes at times.
Yingst frequently has Zoom meetings with the Dunn County Health Department and other health experts.
The health experts are anticipating a spike of COVID-19 cases in January, he said.
The Omicron variant spreads 70 times faster than Delta, making it very contagious, Yingst said.
Preliminary indications are that people who have been vaccinated and who have received a booster shot experience fairly mild cases with the Omicron variant, he said.
The Colfax Board of Education did not take any action on changing the school district’s back-to-school plan, and masks remain optional in the school building.