Guidance from Public Health Officials
August 21, 2020
Dear Woodridge 68 Families:
Welcome back to Woodridge 68 and to the 2020-2021 school year! I hope that you had a wonderful summer and are ready for the start of the year. While we are coming back remotely, we are excited about meeting and developing relationships with our students and reconnecting with their families. While the excitement of starting the school year energizes us, we recognize that an overarching question is the timing of returning to in-person instruction, either in an in-person or hybrid model.
Over the past two months, the landscape of in-person education has been changing dramatically. On June 23, 2020, a set of guidelines was issued from the Illinois State Board of Education setting as a priority the return of students to school in-person. Currently, the increasing number of children getting COVID-19 and a general uptick in the risk of students returning to schools has been recognized. And while we have always stated that our main goal is to get students back in-person as soon as is reasonably possible, it is becoming more probable that returning students to school will not happen in the near future.
Since June 23rd, we have been receiving more and increasingly detailed guidance from Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education about the realities of students returning to school. For instance, August 12th guidance received from the Illinois Department of Public Health instituted additional protocols regarding contact tracing and the treatment of individuals with COVID-like symptoms. These protocols have a significant effect on the ability to run a school system. It is important to note that we are not health professionals, and therefore, are not commenting on the merit or efficacy of the protocols. Rather, we are analyzing the ability to implement those protocols, and determining that they would seriously hamper running our schools. This recent guidance was the impetus for many of our surrounding school districts to switch from in-person plans to remote only plans to start the school year.
For instance, close contact is now defined 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.” Before August 12th, it was 15 minutes in one instance in a single day. Tracing a close contact for 15 minutes during the course of a day for two separate days would be a significant challenge. For example, tracing a student through a two day period on a bus, in a hallway, on a playground or in a common area would be prohibitively difficult. Likewise, conducting the investigation with the DuPage County Health Department, as would be required, would be incredibly time consuming, even if it was only one student or staff member. Tracings for multiple suspected individuals on a single day would take most of the district’s resources.
Moreover, an outbreak in a school has now been defined as “two confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections occurring within 14 calendar days of each other in individuals in the same classroom.” This would prompt an investigation by DuPage County Health Department that may result in recommendations for testing and quarantining all students and staff in the affected classroom.
Similarly, there are new expectations for treating staff and students with COVID-like symptoms. First, anyone who displays COVID-like symptoms would need to be diagnostically tested and remain home until their test was completed. As a result, anyone with with a single instance of 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, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea while at school would need to get tested for COVID-19. It could be possible that during any particular time period, a number of our staff and students will be out until testing comes back. That could seriously hamper our ability to staff our school during flu season or during other illness outbreaks.
In addition, if a student is sent home with suspected COVID-like symptoms, all siblings and household members must be quarantined for 14 days. If a household member is being evaluated for COVID-19, the remainder of the household would have to be quarantined until either an alternate diagnosis is made or a negative test is received. This also could have a significant impact on student attendance and staffing.
On August 17th, we received additional new guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) along with a new Decision Tree for Symptomatic Individuals on when individuals should be held out of attending school based on COVID-like symptoms, positive tests, or exposure. This guidance sets metrics to determine whether increased community transmission of COVID-19 warrants an “adaptive pause” to implement strategies to further mitigate transmission of COVID-19. The metrics rely on indicators such as:
- Weekly county case rates (eg. ≤50 per 100,000)
- Weekly county overall case numbers increase for two consecutive weeks (eg. a >5% to ≤10 increase occurring each week)
- Weekly county youth case numbers increase for two consecutive weeks (eg. a >5% to ≤10 increase occurring each week)
- Weekly test positivity (eg. ≤5%)
It is important to note that we are currently under a remote learning plan. However, if we were open either fully in-person or in a hybrid plan, depending on the number of indicators increasing beyond acceptable levels, mitigation strategies could range from shutting down communal areas, sports, band/choir or other activities, to pivoting to remote learning.
Because we have only recently received this guidance, our responsibility is to examine these new guidelines and metrics to determine what our appropriate next steps will be, and whether reopening schools is practicable in light of these metrics and guidelines. Currently, we do not anticipate opening in any form of an in-person or hybrid model until we determine whether these guidelines and metrics allow us to open and under what conditions we could safely open. At this time, we do not have an expected date for opening until we are able to provide the Board of Education a recommendation for safely returning our students and staff to the classroom. We will continue to work with the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Department of Public Health, DuPage County Health Department, Regional Office of Education and our community to determine when the safest time would be to resume school and to give our recommendations to the Board of Education.
We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time for our students, staff and community. We know that continuing to work toward in-person instruction is our ultimate goal. We will get there. We just want to make sure we are safe in doing so.
Thank you and have a great start to the school year!
Dr. Patrick Broncato
Superintendent of Schools