On Friday, May 13, the District 97 Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss public orders that were published this week by the local health department and whether additional mitigations are necessary for our schools given the increase in COVID-19 cases in our community. Click here to view the meeting recording >>
Based on the current level of community transmission and the number of cases among our students and staff, the board voted to adopt the following mitigations through the end of the school year, effectively immediately:
- Masks will be required for any portion of field trips spent indoors including on buses, if children are transported to field trips via bus.
- Masks will be required, unless appropriate school personnel determine that unmasking is necessary, for all attendees and participants at indoor performances and other events that include individuals who are not students and staff, such as music and end-of-year performances and graduation ceremonies.
- Schools will attempt to move indoor activities outdoors as much as reasonably possible.
We understand that there may be questions about specific school events and activities that are planned through the end of the year. The administration will be working closely with our principals in the coming days to provide clear expectations for our staff, students and families.
Current COVID-19 Cases and Mitigations (District 97 Dashboard)
Between May 7 and 13, the district was notified of 208 student cases of COVID-19 and 31 staff cases. Additionally, the local health department placed a number of classrooms that hit the 10% case threshold in outbreak status (details can be found on our dashboard). As of Friday, Lincoln Elementary School has also been placed in outbreak status by the health department due to the number of cases reported over the past 14 days (130 students and nine staff members).
District 97 does not intend to close classrooms or schools (per the Illinois Department of Public Health, school closure should be the absolute last resort to managing an outbreak). We also want to avoid canceling any end-of-year events or activities, which is why the board voted instead to implement the mitigations listed above.
The district has implemented twice-per-week testing for all outbreaks, and schools are taking additional measures for impacted classrooms, including eating outdoors or in classrooms and maximizing distance between students.
This week, the district received approximately 5,500 at-home antigen kits (containing two tests each) from the Illinois Department of Public Health. We plan to utilize these tests in the Whittier Early Childhood program in lieu of SHIELD saliva tests starting next week, and will expand deployments to supplement SHIELD testing and address any testing gaps.
Due to the current increase in cases, we are STRONGLY RECOMMENDING masks indoors for all students and staff, especially for: individuals are returning to school after testing positive for COVID-19 (days 6-10), asymptomatic close contacts who remain in school (days 0-10), classrooms that are in outbreak status.
The most important thing our staff, students and families can do to support our efforts is to stay home if you are experiencing any possible symptoms of COVID-19—even if they are mild.
Case Reporting and Contact Tracing
We have received some questions regarding case reporting in light of the public orders issued by the local health department. Individual COVID-19 cases and details are reported to the health department via line lists (Google spreadsheets); general case numbers are shared publicly via email notifications and the district dashboard. The district was notified of a communication gap between the schools and the health department in late April, and immediately began investigating, communicating with our nurses, and working with Dr. Chapple-McGruder to resolve the issues that were identified. We have been working very hard to address any remaining issues as quickly as possible.
We are committed to providing the health department with all the information they need in a timely manner. The administration has made recommendations for streamlining case reporting via the line lists, which we hope to implement as soon as possible. We are also discussing expectations for contact tracing—which our nurses continue to do to the best of their ability—and whether the local health department is able to provide additional support.
The district sincerely appreciates your support and understanding as we work to finish the school year as safely as possible. We ask that you continue to extend kindness and grace to our school staff—particularly our school nurses and principals—who are working tirelessly on behalf of our students.
Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet