Challenges D99 Faces with In-Person Learning
August 13, 2020
Our team’s goal has always been to find a way to allow students and staff to safely return to school this fall and we are dedicated to continuing working to bring everyone back to school in-person safely. We want nothing more than to welcome our students back into our buildings. Unfortunately, due to last-minute direction from the state, we cannot bring students back at this time.
As has been the trend all summer, we received new guidance from the state level at the same time as the public, shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday. Although we believed some additional guidance was going to be released, these new measures include many additional requirements that we are unable to respond to or plan for before we bring students back next week. As I indicated yesterday, these include two main areas of concerns include: additional Close Contact Protocols and COVID-like symptoms.
Additional Close Contact Protocols in the section “Contacts to Cases” contains several new requirements:
- A close contact has been redefined as “anyone (with or without a face covering) who was within 6 feet of a confirmed case of COVID-19 (with or without a face covering),for at least 15 minutes throughout the course of a day. The period of close contact begins 2 calendar days before the onset of symptoms.”
- Prior to yesterday, the 15 minutes was any one instance on any one single day. This running 24-hour clock for any two days is an extremely difficult accumulation of time to account for - especially in a high school where students could share time in a passing period, on a bus, in common areas, in an activity or sport, or in a classroom. Figuring out how to account for this new running clock for anyone who a student or staff member may have come into close contact will take some planning.
- The expectation that schools will assist the Local Health Department (LHD) by identifying all close contacts with a confirmed case. Documentation of assigned seats and taking photos of assembled classes was suggested.
- Documenting who students sit near throughout the day is a brand new expectation and it is nothing we have yet discussed with teachers or have planned for. Students frequently move throughout a class in many of the activities we would be bringing students back to school for in-person learning. We have not yet had time to discuss with the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) what expectations there would be for contact tracing in this manner - as the DCHD also received this guidance in real time with us.
- A new definition of an outbreak in a school to include, “Two confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections occurring within 14 calendar days of each other in individuals in the same classroom would meet the case definition for an outbreak.”
- This is a brand new metric for us. Although we had always planned to track cases and close contacts, we now have a requirement to cross check all cases to see if they have commonality and look for trends across students in classrooms. We will need time to design our data systems to track this information within the Hybrid Model across the A and B Groups.
New expectations for COVID-like symptoms in “Management of Ill Students and Staff”:
- All students and staff sent home with COVID-like symptoms should be diagnostically tested. Students and staff should remain home from school until they receive their test results.
- This new requirement would require anyone that displayed COVID-like symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea) while at school to get tested for COVID. Many of these are very common ailments that we see in the nurse's office every day at school.
- We have not had a conversation with the DuPage County Health Department about testing at this level and do not have resources prepared to offer our students or staff to get tested at this frequency. It is unlikely we would be able to staff a building while many staff could be out several days while waiting to receive test results for symptoms that seem ordinary but present as COVID-like symptoms.
- Students and staff with COVID-like symptoms who do not get tested for COVID-19, and who do not provide a doctor’s note documenting an alternative diagnosis, must complete 10 calendar days of isolation from the date of first symptom onset and be fever-free for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms have improved before returning to school.
- This would require everyone with COVID like symptoms that does not have COVID to get a doctor’s note saying they do not have COVID and have a negative test result. Additional guidance we have received indicates if someone has regular ongoing COVID-like symptoms (due to something like allergies) the student or staff member would need a doctor’s note and a weekly negative COVID test to continue attending school. The student attendance and staffing implications to this change are tremendous.
- If a student is sent home sick with suspected COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., runny nose, fever, diarrhea, etc.), all their siblings/household members must be sent home as well and quarantined for 14 calendar days. If one of the household members is being evaluated for COVID-19, the rest of the household must be quarantined until an alternative diagnosis is made or a negative result is received.
- This is a new expectation that has not been communicated to our families or our staff. This will be particularly difficult for staffing a school, as a teacher whose child or household member is sent home sick from school would result in the staff member being out of work for 14 days. Providing substitute coverage for this would be extremely difficult as this new requirement would likely cause many staff members to need to stay home regularly. We would also expect to have a larger amount of the students out as a result of this change as well
I understand that the community would have liked this detailed explanation last night. However, with teachers back at work planning for next week and families coming in for PPE pick-up today, I felt it was important to let everyone know we were making the change as soon as possible. As I have said throughout the summer, continuing to receive information from the state with drastic implications (especially this close to the start of the school year) has been frustrating and challenging. It makes it impossible to plan and even more difficult to lead. Every time I have to go back to the community in this way it erodes the trust you have in us as your school leaders and it is an awful position to work from.
This decision we were forced into yesterday saddens me greatly. We have worked so hard to get students back to school in-person and these last minute changes from the state have taken this first week’s opportunity away from us. I know many of our students and staff are devastated by this sudden change as they were ready to be back learning together in-person next week. This is the furthest thing from what our team has worked non-stop to achieve over the summer. However, if these changes are measures that will keep our students, staff, and community healthier - we must comply and move forward.
I will keep the community informed as we work through this new guidance to determine if, how, and when we can return to in-person learning. We will continue to work with the DuPage County Health Department, the Regional Office of Education, and other local school leaders on the processes that will allow us to safely bring students back to our schools for learning. In the meantime, we will start the year off with Remote Learning and on-line virtual orientation activities next week with the schedules previously communicated. Additional information will follow regarding resource and material pick-up.
As I shared with the Board and the community a few weeks ago, the most important lesson this pandemic is learning how to adapt, change, and respond in a positive way. We cannot let these setbacks stop us from doing our best or from meeting the needs of our students. Instead, we must set the example for our students and rise up to meet these new challenges and provide them with the best possible experience in these important and difficult times. I am honored to lead this District in this responsibility.
Thank you for your continued support and partnership in educating the children of our community.
Dr. Hank Thiele