Allen carter.jpeg

During a special school board meeting on Sept. 28, Driggs Elementary School principal Allen Carter (center) told the board how dire the staffing situation was at Driggs Elementary because of the number of staff members that were sick or had tested positive for COVID.

At Monday's Teton School District 401 Board of Trustees special meeting, the board followed a recommendation from Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme to close Driggs Elementary for part of this week because the school is extremely short on teachers, paraprofessionals, and substitutes. 

As of Friday afternoon there had been 11 total positive cases of COVID in the school district since the start of school. On Friday the district reported that 77 students and staff members are in quarantine, either because they tested positive or because of a possible exposure to someone who tested positive.

DES principal Allen Carter told the school board that on Monday morning, seven teachers, one staff member, and one paraprofessional were out due to sickness. Not all of them were absent because they had tested positive for COVID, but over the weekend a third positive case was confirmed among the staff and two more among the student body. 

"Our staff has been rallying and covering all the extra duties, but it's wearing on them, they're starting to hit the wall," Carter said. 

Three DES classes are quarantined as of right now. On Monday night, Eastern Idaho Public Health reported 27 active cases in Teton County, but there are several test results from the school district that are pending, which might lead to another class in isolation, Carter said. 

The school district warned in a press release last Friday that substitutes are desperately needed to fill in for staff members who are quarantining. 

While Woolstenhulme asked the board members to consider closing DES and Rendezvous Upper Elementary School starting on Tuesday, they pushed back on that, saying that such a quick decision felt like a worst-case scenario and put parents in a hard position. RUES principal Kristin Weston noted that staffing levels were adequate at her school for the most part. The board agreed with the call to close only DES for Wednesday and Thursday; Friday is a professional development day so students already won't be at school. The superintendent said he and the principal will decide hopefully by Saturday afternoon whether the elementary school will reopen next Monday. In the meantime, he said, he wanted each school administrator to hone in on the district-wide plan and focus on strategies and solutions on a school-specific basis. 

"That gives us a week and a half before the regular board meeting on Oct. 12 to bring a concrete plan of school-by-school operations," Woolstenhulme said.

The board also voted to change its phasing plan from the numeric criteria approved in August. In the district's reopening plan, it currently states that if the number of active cases in Teton County rises above 20 per 10,000 people for three days, the district will shift to an alternate day schedule. But shortly after that plan was approved, EIPH changed its "high" risk level to 50 active cases per 10,000 people. Now the district's plan will not have active case numbers as criteria for changing phases; it will simply align with public health risk levels.