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Coeur d'Alene School District faces substitute teacher shortage as COVID-19 cases surge

Ninety-one staff members were not in school as of Thursday afternoon for various reasons tied to COVID-19

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the Coeur d'Alene School District, school leaders said they're facing challenges finding substitute teachers to fill in for staff members who are out due to coronavirus.

Ninety-one staff members were not in school as of Thursday afternoon for various reasons tied to COVID-19, school leaders confirmed. Twenty-seven employees had tested positive for coronavirus and were in isolation while 64 were in quarantine due to exposure or symptoms.

The staffing levels have left administrators trying to fill over a dozen substitute positions across the district.

According to Coeur d'Alene Schools Communications Director Scott Maben, the district was already entering the 2020 school year down its available number of substitutes. Maben cited various reasons for the sub shortage, including some substitute teachers who had retired and were working part time. Some of those staffers, Maben explained, weren't comfortable working due to potentially being at risk for catching the virus.

"We're already way down," said Maben of the substitute pool. 

The district has been averaging a shortage of 16 substitutes this year.

To fill the need, the district has been conducting weekly interviews with potential new hires. Just this week, Coeur d'Alene Schools brought on 11 new substitute teachers, according to Maben.

The current situation has left some school principals or administrators filling in in the classroom or combining some classes.

The district this week announced some notable changes due to impacts from COVID-19 as well. Starting on Nov. 30, the district's middle schools will shift to a blended learning environment. The district cited its current levels of staff and student absences as a factor behind the change. Additionally, Northwest Expedition Academy was temporarily moved to a strictly online and at-home learning model due to staffing shortages.

"We have worked diligently to adapt to the circumstances of this pandemic, while emphasizing safety measures and keeping students attending school in person to the extent we feel is safe and practicable," the district said in a message to families.

As of Thursday afternoon, 579 students were not in school for reasons tied to the pandemic. Just 35 of those students had tested positive for coronavirus while the remaining were in quarantine due to symptoms or exposure.

Regarding the district's delayed start to blended learning for middle schools, Maben said district leaders wanted to give both school administrators and families time to prepare for the changes. After Thursday, the district had just six days of class remaining before students went on Thanksgiving break.