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Over 100 COVID cases in GAPS since Sept. 7, high schoolers may have to use city transit to get to school
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Over 100 COVID cases in GAPS since Sept. 7, high schoolers may have to use city transit to get to school

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There have been over 100 positive COVID-19 cases in the Greater Albany Public Schools district since school started on Sept. 7.

As of Monday night’s meeting, nurse Rachel Smith reported to the board that there had been 107 cases where infected students and staff were on campus during their infectious period.

This number reflects students and staff who tested positive for the virus, and does not include those who have had to quarantine because of close contacts.

As of Monday, 10 staff members and 97 students have tested positive in the three weeks and one day that school has been in session. Information was not available regarding whether they contracted the virus through campus exposure or elsewhere.

Only two schools in the district have not yet reported positive cases, and there have been zero to 19 cases per school so far.

“We are seeing a lot of peaks and valleys in terms of what this looks like for our contact tracing process,” Smith said. “We are typically averaging anywhere from five to 18 cases per day, which is significantly more than what we saw last year for our peak.”

There were 15 positive cases reported during the first week of school, 43 positive cases during the second week and 31 during the third week. On Monday, 18 cases were reported.

The positive cases mirror community transmission numbers, however, as Linn County is reporting around 500 positive cases per 100,000 people.

While many quarantines have been involved with these positive cases, contact tracing efforts with seating charts and attendance sheets have been used to limit the quarantines as much as possible. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated and not experiencing symptoms do not have to quarantine if they come into contact with an infected person.

The positive case rate in the district is still around 0.4% at this time.

Bus driver shortage

GAPS has not escaped the nationwide shortage of bus drivers, and some high schoolers may have to start using city transit to get to school instead of school buses.

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The board voted unanimously to approve the city transit option for high schoolers only if the need arises.

GAPS transportation director Cindy Moran has had to eliminate eight bus routes this academic school year, with four eliminated at the start of the year and four more eliminated in the first three weeks of school.

“I’m trying very hard not to have to do this, but as we get closer to the vaccine mandate and lose drivers, I’m already short over 15,” Moran said. “It won’t be as efficient as a school bus, but we’re getting to the point where we have to free up drivers.”

School bus drivers have been leaving in droves because of many reasons. Some are worried about the exposure, and others do not want to comply with the vaccine mandate. Moran said most school bus drivers are retirees who want to supplement their incomes with part time work, and that the work is becoming more than they bargained for.

“It was perfect for them before, but it wasn’t perfect when COVID hit,” she said.

When Moran sees a bus route that transports a small amount of kids, like 15 or 20, she combines routes to maximize drivers. Some drivers must transport kids to three different schools in a day, so consolidating routes in times of a shortage is crucial in making sure everyone gets to school.

Before a route is eliminated, schools and families are notified of the change and bus drivers hand out fliers to students with their new stop times and route numbers. It’s a process that takes a few days, and Moran is unsure if or when the high schoolers will begin using city transit.

“I have to pick areas where the city bus has a decent routing area,” she said. “We will start with the west side and then move to the south side later.”

Other school board matters

• The board unanimously approved a proclamation recognizing LGBTQ2IA+ History Month for October.

• The board voted 4-1 for Pete Morse, Michael Thompson, Esperanza Herrera-Moore, Clarice Law, Alison Evert, John Andersen and Stephen Hodges to lead the superintendent search, with Eric Aguinaga voting no.

• The board voted unanimously to approve McPherson & Jacobson as the superintendent search consultant firm.

The board further discussed using some of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund III, which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID relief, to convert Central School into a district building rather than a school, possibly moving those third- through fifth-graders to Takena Elementary as one K-5 school. No action was taken.

• The board voted unanimously to approve $6.6 million of ESSER III funds to add classrooms to South Shore Elementary

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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