(KTEN) — School districts across Texoma have spent the last few years navigating through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As cases and absences rise, schools across Texoma are once again making the switch to distance learning.

"In the past — before COVID — we were taught ... if you hit 10 percent student absences, you start watching them really closely," said Savoy Independent School District Superintendent Brian Neal. "If you hit 20 percent student absences, you close it down for a few days. And that's in the days of the flu."

Last week, 40 percent of the staff and 30 percent of students called in sick at Savoy schools.

At Kingston Public Schools in Oklahoma, one-quarter of the staff and 20 percent of students are absent.

"When you have a big number of your staff out, then you end up stacking two classes with one teacher," said Superintendent Brian Brister. "When you get to that point, it's not really effective teaching. So that's when the virtual learning is a better option."

Both the Kingston and Savoy districts transitioned to virtual learning, in part to help curb the spread of the virus. But a substitute teacher shortage is also a complicating factor.

"Five, six ears ago, you could find subs whenever you needed them," Brister said. "Now, I guess, so many schools have so many staff out, they're spread so thin."

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced an executive order Tuesday to help combat those school staffing issues.

"I'm authorizing the state agencies to allow their employees to help keep kids in school by substitute teaching all across the state," the governor said.

State employees who choose to participate will fill in as needed, and will continue to receive their full pay and benefits.

"It's not the best way to do school, but it's certainly better than not doing school at all," Neal said.

Kingston and Savoy schools are back and fully staffed this week, even more prepared for another possible surge.