Pandemic continues to impact Denair students, staff

As the omicron variant of COVID continues to sweep across the country, students and staff in the Denair Unified School District have been affected. At one point last week, the number of people on Denair’s four campuses testing positive for the virus nearly doubled in just one day – from 27 to 52.

That has led to a spike in students and staff having to go into quarantine for at least five days. In Denair and most other districts, substitute teachers also have been at a premium. Outside of the classroom, office staff, food service workers, custodians and administrators have had to do double duty while colleagues recovered.

With the virus so pervasive in the community, the need for rapid testing also has risen. On Thursday, the school district distributed almost 450 test kits to families with children in Denair schools. More of the rapid tests were to be given out to families on Friday between 3:15 and 4:30 p.m. The tests were provided by the state.

“I think it’s important for trustees and the public to know that COVID is impacting our community,” Superintendent Terry Metzger said Thursday night at the month school board meeting. “We’ve been very short-staffed. People have been covering for each other. Really, we are doing the best we can to serve our students and families.”

Office staffing has become such an issue that trustees approved a waiver Thursday night allowing the district to temporarily bring back two employees who retired less than six months ago. Typically, retirees have to wait 180 days before they can return for short-term or part-time assignments.

Metzger said state and local health officials predict that the omicron wave could peak in the next week or so, but she expects that COVID will continue to impact daily school for the foreseeable future. Earlier this week, the California Department of Public Health updated its guidance for schools regarding isolation protocols for students and staff who either test positive for COVID or have been exposed to someone who did. Those protocols are available on the Denair Unified website, but still have left many confused.

Meanwhile, Denair trustees sent a letter to state and local health officials as well as elected officials earlier this month asking for more clarity about COVID-related rules, including the specific metrics that would need to be met to relax mandatory mask requirements. The letter also is available on the district’s website.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Heard a report about the district’s special education program, which includes 137 students across all grade levels. The district has a psychologist, five teachers, two resource specialists, two speech and language pathologists, and 10 special ed paraprofessionals to work with those students. Denair also has taken back early assessments of potential special ed students from the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE), allowing the district to better get to know those students and their families earlier as well as saving Denair money.
  • Voted 3-0 to amend an agreement with the SCOE to spend an additional $11,500 this year to train teachers. Trustees Kathi Dunham-Filson and Regina Gomes were absent.
  • Approved an overnight gathering — pending COVID conditions at the time – on Jan. 28-29 at Denair Middle School for the Denair FFA Discovery Leadership Conference. The meeting will target the leadership development of middle school FFA Members. Workshops will include team development, agriculture advocation and future middle school event planning.
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