The Manhattan-Ogden school district closed all schools Friday as administrators deemed USD 383 couldn’t field an adequate number of staff as the largest wave of COVID-19 cases affects the community.

In an update from USD 383 superintendent Marvin Wade on Thursday morning, he wrote the district would use Friday as one of its built-in “weather days,” or days intentionally left open on the calendar, to give students and staff a four-day weekend to “hopefully get healthy.”

Wade said no remote learning will take place Friday; this effectively gives students and staff in the district a four-day weekend with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday.

The district planned for events and activities slated for Friday to continue as planned. But Manhattan High boys basketball head coach Benji George told The Mercury on Thursday that the boys and girls basketball teams wouldn’t play Friday because of cases with both teams.

Wade said COVID-19 numbers across the district are making it “extremely difficult for us to maintain an adequate number of staff.”

Wade said on a typical school week, the district averages about 50 licensed staff absences per day. He said the district typically isn’t able to secure about five substitutes for those absences.

“During the week of Jan. 10, the district has averaged 85 licensed staff absences a day and been short an average of 15 substitutes per day,” Wade said. “Our classified departments are also facing short staffing due to staff illness.”

USD 383 has faced a staffing shortage since last year, but it grew increasingly severe following the winter break.

College Hill Early Learning Center already had been operating remotely for the week because of an increase in quarantines related to COVID-19.

Officials said in a statement last Friday that 70% of the building’s students were in quarantine or had been identified as close contacts.

Wade wrote that closing districtwide on Friday is a “short-term sacrifice” made to increase the chances of keeping children in school in-person, five days a week.

He encouraged people to stay home if they are feeling ill, follow the district’s masking policy, avoid large crowds, and get vaccinated.

This decision comes as Riley County has experienced a significant leap in COVID cases.

The health department on Wednesday reported 1,202 new COVID cases since its last report on Jan. 5. For comparison, since the pandemic started in March 2020, only two months have had higher totals of cases — 1,495 in November 2020 and 1,208 and December 2020.

Last week, USD 383 Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid said to the school board that COVID-19 and other illness, like the flu, hit the district simultaneously as classes resumed on Jan. 4.

Reid said the district came back to the highest week of positive cases it has seen since the pandemic started.

For the week of Jan. 2 to 8, the district had 128 students and 42 staff members test positive for COVID. USD 383 also had 274 students and 13 staff members in quarantine during that week. The district had an attendance rate of 87% for students and 83% for staff.

USD 383 spokeswoman Michele Jones said the district’s previous highs for cases in a week happened Nov. 14 through 20, 2021, when 27 students and 16 staff members tested positive. At that time, 342 students and 72 staff members were in quarantine.

“Not everything’s going to get done the way we want it to, but we’re going to take care of the crucial things first,” Reid said at the Jan. 5 board meeting. “What I promise is that we’ll fight tooth and nail to stay open, but it’s putting an extreme challenge on every department we have.”

Classes in USD 383 are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.