Pilot Point ISD closes due to COVID-19 Cases
By Abigail Allen
The Pilot Point ISD administrators made the call to cancel school across the district for Thursday and Friday because of a staffing level problem.
With more than 15% of the district's employees out sick, there were not enough people on hand to provide quality instruction.
"We've been talking about it the last couple of days, and all four of my principals have really been struggling, and they basically said yesterday, 'Shut it down,'" Superintendent Todd Southard said. "Because they're getting so low."
Every campus and the districtwide maintenance staff have been hit with absences.
"[Principal] Rae Ann [Strittmatter] had, I think, 11 at the Early Childhood Center," Southard said. "That's a small campus anyway."
When the COVID-19 pandemic was in more of a lull, it was easier to get substitute teachers, Southard said, but the current strain is putting a strain on hiring substitutes.
"It's hard to find subs right now, because who would want to work in this kind of situation?" Southard said. "We upped the pay, and when things were pretty quiet with COVID, we were doing pretty good about filling our jobs. But when the pandemic came roaring, it's been really difficult to get subs."
According to the absence monthly summary presented at the PPISD board meeting Wednesday evening, staff absences went from 18 with a substitute fill rate of 63% on Jan. 4 to 43 out with 28% of the spots filled on Wednesday.
Denton County reported 681 new cases, with a total of 7,094 active cases of COVID-19, on Jan. 4, with Wednesday’s report showing 1,326 new cases and a total of 12,967, according to the Denton County Public Health reports.
The surprising exception was the transportation staff, with the bus drivers predominately staying healthy.
Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that people stay home for five days after becoming symptom free, choosing to close at this time means "two buys you five" days, Southard said, because of the planned holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"We had five additional days built into our calendar just in case we needed to use them, and we can take these days off and still meet the state requirement for minutes," Southard said. "… If we get in a bind later down the road, then we have three days we can butt up against a weekend—there's another five days."
Boyd ISD, Vernon ISD and Krum ISD are some of the other districts that have opted to do the same; Vernon's closure began on Tuesday instead of Thursday.
Aubrey ISD Superintendent Dr. David Belding and his fellow administrators are monitoring the situation in their district.
“Our testing center has really helped us identify students and staff who are positive and confirm students and staff that are negative,” Belding said. “We ask for continued help from our families to monitor for symptoms and contact their child's campus if their student has any COVID symptoms.”
None of the campuses have had enough absences on the staff or student side in AISD to require that the district close down and use the instructional minutes it banked for such a situation, Belding said on Wednesday.
“If we feel a campus or classroom reaches a particular threshold of illness and spread, we may send a specific classroom home for quarantine or consider temporarily closing a campus,” Belding said. “Based on our case tracking, we have not reached that point.”
Each of the closed districts also cited staffing concerns, like Pilot Point did.
"I'm glad we had these five days extra built in," Southard said. "We don't have to [mess] with remote learning. … I understand it puts a burden on the parents. I get it. But right now, we can't staff it like we need to and it's affecting instruction and it's not getting any better."
Even in classes where the staff has stayed healthy, if many students are out, it makes continuing instruction difficult at best because several students would be days behind.
"It's kind of a stop, reset and just come back Tuesday," Southard said.
Also around the area, two public meetings were canceled because of a lack of quorum, the city council meetings for Tioga and Aubrey.
In addition, Denton County announced that “the Denton County Tax Office located in the Steve Copeland Government Center in Crossroads will be closed effective [Jan. 12]. We hope to reopen as soon as possible. Please remit payments online, by mail, or at another location.”
The tax assessor/collector’s office can be reached by phone 940-349-3500 or 972-434-8835.