ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Five schools in Elgin U-46 school district, the second largest school district in the state, are closed Tuesday due to COVID-related staffing shortages.
Patty Galiotos was looking forward to seeing her classroom full of second graders again after holiday break. Instead she was surrounded by empty desks and had plenty of time for lesson planning.
"I look forward to it as much as the kids do, so I was disappointed," she said.
Galiotos teaches at Highland Elementary School, one of the five schools closed for the day. With nearly 400 teachers out sick, mostly with COVID, the district was able to replace fewer than half of them with substitutes.
"Today was exceptionally difficult because of the number of absentees of staff," said Tony Sanders, U-46 superintendent.
Fifty-two other schools in the district remained open Tuesday. Sanders said he intends to do everything possible to keep kids in the classroom and keep as many schools open as possible. He said last year's experience with remote learning was a failure for most students and teachers, and the district does not intend to bring it back this year.
"When they're here, they're learning best. Especially our younger children," said Highland Principal Steve Johnson.
District officials said they are taking it day by day and hoping to reopen schools as quickly as possible, even as soon as Wednesday. They said much of the increase in COVID cases is likely from holiday gatherings, and school may be among the safest places to be.
"School is the right place to be and the safest place to be for students and staff because it is the one place where we do follow the protocols," Sanders said. "We wear masks, social distance to the best of our ability."
That includes on school buses. Roughly two-thirds of District U-46 students take bus transportation to get to school. District officials said they're learning it's almost as difficult to replace bus drivers as it is teachers.
Plainfield District 202 Tuesday also warned parents to prepare for major bus delays because of COVID-related staffing issues.