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Schools face Omicron uncertainty after holiday break

Chamberlain School District Classroom
Submitted photo
Chamberlain School District Classroom

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

The Omicron variant of COVID is impacting children to a greater degree than previous variants.

With public schools back in session after the holidays, many districts face uncertainty about the health of students and staff this semester. Justin Zajic is the superintendent of the Chamberlain School District

“Chamberlain's a big school, but it's also a small town. And so, if one daycare closes, that does impact us. We try and give everybody a heads-up, hey this is going to happen, we're looking at maybe adjusting the schedule," he said. "Fortunately, this year we have not had to do that. But we're always trying to think two or three steps ahead.”

Zajic said with COVID cases rising in the state, he expects an increase in staff members calling out sick over the next few weeks. He added this can be difficult, especially if multiple teachers are ill.

“Chamberlain does not have a huge substitute pool to begin with. If somebody is out, we have built-in coverage to go into that room. Which, if we would have had that last year, we would have been able to sustain and not had to cancel a week in October," he said. "So, I guess that's another lesson learned, like look at your staffing going in and figure out a way to make the third-grade teacher work for two classrooms, because the substitute pool is simply not there.”

Zajic said current district policy keeps fully vaccinated students in class after a close contact with an infected person, unless the student has COVID symptoms.

Active COVID-19 cases recently rose above 10,000 in South Dakota. The last time cases reached that level was the end of 2020.