The Maple School Board voted Monday, Nov. 9, to give District Administrator Sara Croney the authority to shut down in person classes at one school building for up to one week without first calling a special board meeting.

Additional buildings could be closed, but a special board meeting would have to occur before extending the closure past a week. The most likely trigger for such a move would be lack of staffing.

"We've said it over and over, COVID's not going to shut us down, the lack of substitutes is," Croney said.

If a school was shut down, students would immediately transition to online learning, freeing up substitute teachers and possibly support staff to fill gaps at other facilities.

“We almost got there yesterday,” Croney told the board. “I thought potentially we may not have been able to open past today.”

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On Monday, she said, 22 staff members and 192 students were absent due to a positive COVID-19 test or being in quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.

The schools with the highest absentee rate were Northwestern Elementary School, with nine staff members and 98 students absent, and Northwestern Middle School, with nine staff members and 46 students absent. Student absenteeism isn’t the problem.

“It’s the staff,” Croney said. “If you do not have the staff, you can’t stay open. If we can’t stay open, we can’t have sports.”

The board voted last month to raise the daily pay for substitute teachers and hire four additional contracted substitutes.

“The plan you approved by allowing us to hire more subs saved us today,” Croney told the board, as did quick action by administrators and administrative assistant Jenny Keller, who calls in substitutes.

But things are changing quickly, Croney said, and the authority to make a decision without first calling a special board meeting would allow her to operate for the safety and success of the district.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases have been rising for weeks in Douglas County.

As of Wednesday, the county had 1,144 confirmed positive cases. Of those, 180 were active.

The increase in confirmed cases and a county-wide positivity rate of 67% prompted the Superior School District to switch to virtual learning for all students Monday. District Administrator Amy Starzecki said the Superior district had 67 staff and 276 students quarantined, 28 of those for positive tests, as of Nov. 4.

The Maple School Board voted to continue its current learning model four days a week at the secondary level and five days a week for grades 4K-5 for as long as possible.

Croney said administrators are keeping a number of options in mind to free up staff, from moving an entire grade level virtual to shutting down a building. Two teachers are currently teaching classes online from home while a substitute manages the classroom.

“Our goal is to try to stay open if we can,” Croney said.

The district administrator said she would like to give parents as much advance notice as possible if a grade or building needed to move to virtual learning.

“But getting more than one day notice, I can’t guarantee that,” Croney said.