Twin Cities students return to school Tuesday despite multiple staff out at D87, Unit 5

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BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Back to class amid omicron: both of Bloomington-Normal’s school districts returned students to classrooms following the winter break.

District leaders at both Unit 5 and District 87 said they’re now dealing with COVID-related staffing shortages. Both leaders said multiple staff members are beginning the second semester in isolation.

It’s a problem they claim is manageable right now, but are hoping doesn’t get much worse.

A COVID-19 surge, mainly thanks to the Omicron variant already creating problems at McLean County Unit 5 schools as students returned to in-person learning Tuesday.

“We have had a number of staff submitting information indicating that they were a close contact or positive for COVID-19,” said Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle.

Weikle said staff includes teachers, cafeteria workers, and custodial/maintenance team members who have had to call off sick due to COVID-19 or sickness. However, she said replacing cafeteria workers, custodians, and teaching assistants is just as big of a struggle right now as finding substitute teachers.

“It does put us in a predicament when we have any employees out, but there are certain positions where there’s just fewer subs available,” Weikle said.

At Bloomington District 87, superintendent Dr. Barry Reilly said to his knowledge, 26 staff were out Tuesday due to COVID-19.

“It is high, if it continues to grow that certainly is a cause for concern,” Reilly said.

Reilly said district-wide staffing shortages have been an ongoing issue, however the pandemic has made it much worse.

“When you put that in the midst of a pandemic, whatever number of people you have in those areas; you can expect during times of high positivity rates, that pool shrinks comparatively,” Reilly said.

For now, both Reilly and Weikle are hoping for the best when it comes to the Omicron variant, and said they will continue to monitor their staffing.

If staffing numbers become too short to operate, districts can take a temporary pause in learning.

“If I had so many issues and it was challenging for our staff, we may just simply have to take an emergency day,” Reilly said. “That just means we cancel school and make it up at the end of the year, we have five of those that we can use.”

Weikle said if there were to be a temporary pause, they’d have to look at metrics, class by class and school by school.

“I don’t have that concern district-wide; it could happen at the classroom level or different schools,” Weikle said.

Both Reilly and Weikle said they have no intention of using an emergency day at this time.

McLean County Unit 5 and District 87 have openings for multiple positions.

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