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Schools Postpone Opening Due To COVID-Related Staff Shortages

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Erik Neumann/JPR
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Students at Wilson Elementary School in the Medford School District in February, 2021.

Schools throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California are in the process of starting classes again. But the pandemic is again causing problems as administrators try to reopen while keeping teachers, staff and students safe.

At the beginning of this week, the approximately 900 students who attend Jackson County’s Rogue River School District were planning to be back in classes.

On Friday, the district’s high school was missing one support staff and two instructors who were quarantining from exposure to COVID-19. But, on Sunday, the day before classes were set to start, Superintendent Patrick Lee says three more high school support staff were quarantined because of exposure to the virus.

“That left us in a position where we didn’t have any of our support staff available to help us open up on the first day of school,” Lee says.

The district is now pushing high school classes back by a week in order to train other staff for back-to-school duties like registration, class scheduling and locker assignments. The district’s Rogue River Elementary School and South Valley Academy were unaffected by the closure.

In California’s Shasta County the Castle Rock School and Anderson Middle School also announced on Monday that they were closing for COVID-related reasons.

The Oregon Department of Education does not keep track of how many schools have had to close. Health and safety protocols are largely up to districts to create this year according to the department. Face coverings are required in all indoor school settings.

Lee with the Rogue River School District says substitute teachers are in high demand right now but he hasn’t heard of any other districts in Oregon that have had to close yet.

“I think a lot of us are kind of teetering and hanging on the very thin thread of having to do this kind of stuff,” he says. “Unfortunately for us, we got late notice that we were the first ones.”

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.