Gilroy schools are required to stay open for in-person instruction, even as high Covid-19 case numbers are keeping many students home and causing classrooms to be short-staffed, district officials say.
Despite this, Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores said the district agrees with county education and health officials that distance learning, which consumed most of the 2020-21 school year, is not ideal for students’ well-being.
“We know that students benefit from in-person instruction in the classroom and that there are many possible negative impacts of shutting down again,” Flores told the Board of Education on Jan. 13.
A Jan. 7 joint statement from County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan and County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody reminded school districts that the state’s waiver that allowed for distance learning in lieu of in-person instruction expired June 30.
“Keeping our students, staff and families safe remains our top priority,” Dewan stated. “We are working alongside our school districts to protect in-person learning and practice the appropriate safety protocols.”
According to GUSD data, 35 Covid-19 cases were reported among students across the district from Jan. 10-14, with 12 of those at Gilroy High School. During the same period, 20 staff tested positive.
Since students returned to school from winter break on Jan. 3, Flores said roughly 20% of the district’s 10,600 students and 15% of staff have been absent on any given day, with Covid cited as the main reason.
As a result, some classes have had to be combined by grade level, while teachers are being asked to cover others during their preparation periods, according to Flores.
“All staff that are available are covering classes,” she said. “That’s how we’re making this work. Although it’s not ideal and it’s full of challenges, every day and every hour we are still operating at a very safe and acceptable level.”
The short-staffing has also severely hampered the district’s transportation department. Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Alvaro Meza said the district should have 27 drivers, but in recent days has only had 10, causing delays in student pickup and forcing the district to look at outside companies, which are also experiencing their own staffing issues.
“That means our drivers are tripling, quadrupling routes,” he said. “I’m imploring a little bit of patience.”
The district is taking a number of temporary precautions to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in schools, some of which Flores admitted will not be popular.
Among those, sporting events will be closed to spectators, including cheerleaders. Band, choir and drama events are being rescheduled, while all district meetings have returned to a virtual format.
During a series of drive-thru events at Gilroy High School at the beginning of January, nearly 11,000 Covid-19 antigen test kits were distributed to families, according to Flores.
A Jan. 12 vaccination clinic at Glen View Elementary School set a record in the district, with 457 vaccines administered in three-and-a-half hours, she added.