Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg. (Photo by Rachel Cassandra, KFSK)

 Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg has temporarily canceled its after-school recess program Monday through Thursday. The school is having trouble staffing the program because it’s cold-and-flu season.

“What happens is when one person is sick, it trickles down to other people,” said Principal Heather Conn. “And we just don’t have enough people to cover after-school duties.”

The after-school recess program was running Monday through Friday for kids in the first through fifth grades. Kindergarteners joined only on Fridays. Kids would have an after-school snack in the cafeteria for fifteen minutes, then there was 45 minutes of recess. Altogether, the program extended pickup time for families one hour, from 2:45 to 3:45. 

Niccole Olsen is a new School Board member. She and her husband have two boys in the school. They’re in the second and fifth grades. 

“Both my husband and I work full time and then some,” said Olsen. “We’ve utilized the program since it started. It was one of those good things that came out of COVID times that we were thrilled to see stick around.”

Olsen says their family’s schedule will be disrupted and her husband will have to end his workday early when he can. 

“We’re gonna miss an extra hour of supervised time for the kids,” said Olsen. “I know an hour may not seem like much, but to a working parent, it’s a lot. And the trickle down effect of that, not only for us, but I’m sure many other parents, is big.”

Petersburg has a child-care-access crisis, so many families may be making due already and juggling caregiver schedules. 

Conn says that the school is solidly-staffed but that cold-and-flu season is really rough. She says her day starts at five in the morning when people start calling in sick. They have a limited substitute teacher pool, which is mostly made up of retired teachers. And some of those retired teachers leave town for long periods during the winter. Conn says flu and cold season sometimes knocks teachers out in waves. 

“So today, for example, we have two teachers out in the elementary school and one para out in the elementary school,” said Conn. “But over in the high school, I believe there are about four teachers out over there today… So, that’s a huge loss to our district, which means we will have to shut down programs.”

And, Conn says that when they have to pick and choose between programs, everything during the school day gets priority. 

“Anything that’s outside of the normal school day,” said Conn, “if we can get it covered, that would be great. If not, we can’t die on that hill.”

Snack time will still be available to students who stay in the cafeteria right after school. Carlee Johnson McIntosh is the director of the school’s food program. She says kids have to stay at school for that snack, but it will still be available for everyone. Based on federal regulations, the school offers milk, a whole grain, lean meat, fruit and a vegetable. 

For now, the after-school recess program for K through 5th graders will only be available on Fridays. The school will reassess whether they can restart the program at the end of February. Conn is hoping that cold and flu season will subside by then.