Effects of pandemic forces GIPS to cancel classes Friday

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 5:32 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 11:24 AM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Grand Island Public Schools has announced changes to its school calendar as well as continuing its masking protocol.

GIPS said they recognize staff are enduring a great deal of stress this school year as they continue to work to overcome challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has been compounded by illnesses such as RSV, strep throat, hand foot and mouth disease and seasonal colds.

“GIPS is feeling the effects of the national labor shortage, specifically in the area of certified and classified positions. This limited availability within the workforce is impacting daily fill rates for substitutes. Many staff are covering multiple classrooms to ensure continuity of learning and serving in other capacities in order to provide a safe learning environment for students,” said Dr. Tawana Grover, GIPS Superintendent.

The GIPS mission remains “Every Student, Every Day, A Success” and is only realized with a healthy and whole staff. GIPS is having to review operations daily to achieve their goal: Start Strong to Finish Strong.

This year is proving to be more challenging, which means GIPS must reset as needed for the benefit of students and staff and sustain safety protocols while remaining focused on keeping schools open for learning onsite.

Calendar Change- No School Friday September 24, 2021

Students and staff will be provided a day off Friday, September 24, 2021 to reset for the days ahead. Meals will be available for students. Activities will continue as scheduled. Grand Island Public Schools thanks stakeholders in advance for understanding the predicaments faced by school districts this school year.

“Our staff and students need this opportunity to mentally and physically reset. The disruptions in learning due to the strains in our workforce have altered schedules and required readjustment to the sequencing of academic and activity related experiences,” Grover stated.

Staff and students are asked to take the day to destress from the complexities of the pandemic and focus on self-care during this three day weekend. Their overall wellbeing is critical to their success.

“GIPS is very appreciative of the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education for creating space in its school culture to consider the mental health of staff and students,” remarked Grover. The GIPS administration will be taking a newly proposed 2021-2022 school calendar with changes to reflect mental health to the Board of Education for consideration of approval during the October 14 regularly scheduled board meeting.

MIchelle Carter, a Dodge Elementary school teacher who is president of the Grand Island Education Association, told Local4 Thursday that she thought the district was doing everything it could to manage the effects of the pandemic. She said GIPS teachers have been “run ragged” since the beginning of the school year while covering for each other. She said the district has been working to get more substitute teachers. She said the teacher’s union has been part of the discussions with administrators on how to handle the situation.

Mask Protocol

When implementing any changes in protocols such as masks, GIPS considers the community safety threshold along with other data impacting schools such as illnesses, absences, and/or hospitalizations. GIPS committed to providing an update for staff, families and community no later than September 27.

Following review of the data, the current protocols as outlined in the GIPS Safe Return to School Plan will continue, including universal mask wearing while inside all GIPS buildings.

In making the decision to continue requiring masks inside all GIPS buildings, GIPS reviewed local data. As of September 21, there were 415 cases per 100,000 population over the previous seven days. The GIPS Safe Return to School Plan defines substantial transmission as 50 cases per 100,000.

GIPS is also monitoring cases inside its schools which currently have an average of 6.7 cases per school day. During the 2020-2021 school year the average rate was 3.8 cases per school day. A high amount of absences due to illnesses have been reported since the beginning of the school year.

GIPS will continue to address the impact of COVID-19 in the community by gathering research and engaging with the Central District Health Department, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and local medical professionals to ensure a safe school environment.

GIPS is embracing the power of recharging and looking forward to a day of professional development for staff Monday, September 27. GIPS custodial crew will take this day to deep clean schools.

Grover stated, “Safety remains our top priority. We want our students to continue to learn, grow and thrive. Thank you to our school community for your continued support during these unprecedented times. We appreciate your partnership. We are One GIPS For ALL!”

The next community update will be no later than October 25, 2021.

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