COVID-19 Update - Jan. 8, 2022

COVID-19 Update - Jan. 8, 2022

Dear District 97 Staff and Families,

With the first week of 2022 officially behind us, we wanted to provide an update on where things stand in the district. This message includes information about:

  • Positive cases;
  • Staffing;
  • Adaptive pauses;
  • New state guidance;
  • Acceptable COVID-19 tests for returning to school.

This is a lengthy update. Thank you in advance for your time and patience.

Positive Cases

First, we want to acknowledge that the return to school has been challenging given the high rate of community transmission that has impacted our students and staff. This was expected given the highly-contagious Omicron variant and the gatherings that occurred over the holidays. We have been monitoring cases closely and are in regular communication with the Oak Park Department of Public Health regarding the status of each building and appropriate mitigations.

The district dashboard was updated late Friday evening. Cases reported for the week of Jan. 3, 2022, reflect cases that were reported to District 97 prior to winter break. We have included any positive cases that prevented students or staff from returning on Tuesday, Jan. 4. It is important to keep in mind that many of these exposures happened over winter break, not in school. SHIELD results from Friday testing will be added to the dashboard on Monday.

Staffing

As you are aware, school districts across the country are all facing higher than normal staff absences as a result of the current surge in cases. The district has been working with schools on a daily basis to manage and problem-solve our staffing challenges in order to maintain in-person learning. 

We want to express our sincere gratitude to our entire teachers, administrators and staff for their tireless work this week and their dedication to our students’ safety and learning. A special thanks to our nurses, who are working so hard to keep up with contract tracing, absences and providing guidance to our families. Please continue to show grace to our staff—everyone is doing the best they can under extraordinary circumstances.

Adaptive Pauses

On Thursday, the district announced that Hatch and Lincoln elementary schools would implement an adaptive pause. After consulting with the Oak Park Department of Public Health on Friday, it was determined that both schools will both reopen for in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Remote learning will be provided on Monday, and both schools will participate in SHIELD testing on Tuesday.

We understand that there has been some confusion regarding our school positivity rates and the criteria for entering into an adaptive pause. One of the challenges we’re currently facing is that the state’s guidance on adaptive pauses is extremely limited; there isn't a definitive metric or set of criteria. On Monday, the weekly message from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) stated, “In general, an adaptive pause should not be necessary if the school is following all appropriate mitigation strategies. If the school is following guidance regarding masking, testing, and identifying and excluding COVID-19 cases and their close contacts, then an adaptive pause should not be necessary to mitigate an outbreak, and students are best served by continuing to provide in-person instruction.” Current state guidance also states that short-term closures may be used to allow local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 situation impacting the school and to help the school determine appropriate next steps. School districts may not enter into an adaptive pause without consulting with the local health department.

Due to the high number of positive cases we experienced at Lincoln and Hatch early in the week—many of which stemmed from winter break—it was difficult to keep up with contact tracing. A core transmission control measure is to identify those who are considered close contacts, exclude the unvaccinated from school, and ensure that vaccinated close contacts are consistently masked or adequately spaced when unmasked. Inability to know who is a close contact and to employ these steps could place the school at risk for substantial spread. 

The adaptive pause has given our staff additional time to catch up on contact tracing and ensure that we are able to implement all required safety protocols for vaccinated close contacts who remain in school, including providing adequate distance between students when masks are removed at lunch. This additional time has benefited our other schools, as we have been able to implement what we have learned and provide additional guidance to our staff.

Our goal is to avoid adaptive pauses whenever possible. We will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines and will make any necessary changes as we continue to monitor the spread of the virus.

CDC and IDPH Guidelines for Schools Regarding Isolation and Quarantine

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published new guidance for schools that reduces the number of days for isolation and quarantine. On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced that it plans to align with this guidance and updated regulations and documents will be released soon. Until we receive that updated guidance, we will continue to follow our existing protocols for quarantine and isolation. We will update you as soon as we are able.

Acceptable COVID-19 Tests for Returning to School

Due to the current testing shortage, the Oak Park Department of Public Health has advised that the district can accept the results of rapid antigen tests that are proctored at a facility (home tests are not accepted). A PCR test is preferred, but documentation of a proctored rapid antigen test will be accepted temporarily until we have moved past the testing shortage. As a reminder, the options when testing is required to return to school are PCR, NAAT or rapid antigen test from a facility. 

Keeping Each Other Safe

The district will continue to do everything it can to maximize the health and safety of our schools. However, it is incumbent upon all of us to work together to keep our community safe and our students in school. We implore our families, students and staff to refrain from high-risk activities and large congregate gatherings during this time, regardless of vaccination status. Please follow the current guidance for COVID-19 prevention, get vaccinated and boosted, monitor for symptoms and seek testing.

Thank you for your support and your attention to this message.

Sincerely,

Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet
Co-Interim Superintendents