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North Texas districts cancel school after MLK break due to staffing shortages, COVID-19 surge

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

Officials hope extended break will allow for quarantine to help curb the spread.

Mesquite ISD
Mesquite ISD, which offered free COVID-19 this week, will close all campuses through Wednesday because of a surge in cases and the lack of staff.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

By Valeria Olivares and Talia Richman

More districts are canceling school after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day break as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

North Texas school leaders hope the longer break will allow anyone who has recently tested positive for coronavirus — including the hundreds of teachers who are absent — to quarantine safely so they can return to school next week.

Mansfield and Northwest, two Tarrant County-area districts, are closing all campuses through Tuesday. Mesquite and White Settlement ISDs will close all their schools through Wednesday.

The swift spread of the omicron variant has left many districts with no other option except to close campuses because of severe staffing shortages and the lack of substitutes.

Mesquite officials noted that more than 15% of staff were absent.

“The strain of covering classes in the midst of a severe substitute shortage has taken a tremendous toll on our staff members who are able to report to work, but our ability to safely monitor students in our care is quickly becoming unmanageable,” district officials noted on Mesquite’s site.

White Settlement ISD Superintendent Frank Molinar wrote in a recent letter to families that his district would also have to close until Wednesday. He said more than 150 staff members — out of about 825 districtwide — are out due to illness, COVID-19 exposure or because their children’s day cares are closed. Absenteeism in the 6,600-student district is also at a high.

“All available personnel are being utilized to cover classes and staff who are out; however, the rising staff absentee rates are making this increasingly difficult to provide adequate staffing,” he wrote.

Dealing with the same issues, smaller rural districts are feeling a heavier burden because they have less people to fill positions at their schools.

Area districts that canceled classes on Friday include: Boyd and Argyle, districts about 30 miles north of Fort Worth; Kemp, which is about 45 miles southeast of Dallas; Red Oak, a school district in northern Ellis County; Krum and Pilot Point, two districts just north of Denton; and Forney, a district east of Mesquite.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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