August 21, 2020
Dear District 15 Community:
I hope this message has you settling into a one-of-a-kind school year! It certainly is one we have never seen before and one I know we all hope we never see again.
As I have said numerous times, I would like to extend a sincere thank you for your support, flexibility and understanding as materials and Chromebooks were distributed and new technology platforms were utilized for the first time. I can confidently say that our dedicated staff worked hard to drum up excitement, calm nerves and -- most importantly -- connect with students this week.
ROLLING RE-ENTRY PLAN UPDATE
I have an update to share regarding our rolling re-entry plan. New restrictive guidance issued from the Illinois Department of Public Health, paired with several positive COVID-19 cases among our own staff following new teacher orientation one week ago, have unfortunately made it clear that we must delay our re-entry to in-person instruction at this time.
Specifically, our starting date for rolling re-entry will be delayed until Monday, September 21 and be implemented on a modified schedule.
Monday, September 21: Kindergarten and K-8 self-contained special education programs
CLA: ACES, Multiple Needs (MN), Early Childhood SIP: Half-day only (9:00-11:30 a.m.); transition to a full- or extended-day starting on Tuesday, October 13
Monday, September 28: Grades 1-2 and self-contained early childhood
Monday, October 5: Grades 3-4
Tuesday, October 13: Grades 5-8 and ECDEC/blended early childhood (junior high in hybrid model)
More information on why this adjustment was made is included below.
POSITIVE COVID-19 CASES IN DISTRICT & STAFFING
Unfortunately, despite layers of new safety protocols, we have already had four staff members across four schools and one outside contractor working on a summer construction project test positive for COVID-19 following new teacher orientation and the return of staff to buildings last week.
After intensive contact tracing efforts by District nurses and administrators, more than 30 staff members were identified as close contacts and are currently in self-isolation for 14 days, as mandated by IDPH. The revised and narrowed IDPH definition states anyone near a COVID-19 positive person for 15 cumulative minutes as opposed to consecutive is considered a close contact. Although we are not aware of any case-to-case transmission or any close contacts contracting the virus, this experience provides a stark reminder that we cannot predict how many positive cases and subsequent instances of quarantine will occur as we continue to welcome students back to school in-person.
Additionally, if we continue to see high numbers of staff members who need to quarantine due to illness or close contact, this may result in a staffing shortage that will not be easy to resolve with our limited substitute teacher pool during this ongoing pandemic in which many substitutes are not willing to work in schools. This could further impact our ability to proceed with our revised rolling re-entry plan.
NEW PPE REQUIREMENT REVISIONS
Due to PPE shortages nationwide, these masks are extremely hard to obtain. District 15 placed an order, but our shipment is not anticipated to arrive quickly. Once we obtain the masks, each individual must also have the mask professionally fitted prior to use in our schools. Because of this new requirement, we will not have the mandated PPE in time to meet our original Tuesday, September 8 re-entry start date.
NEW, ADDITIONAL IDPH RESTRICTIONS
Many of the new, additional IDPH restrictions will have a broad impact on in-person learners.
Automatic quarantine of a student or staff presenting with at least one COVID-like symptom until a negative COVID-19 test or a doctor’s note with alternative diagnosis is provided;
If a student is sent home sick with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, all siblings/household members must be also sent home and quarantined until a negative COVID-19 tests or doctor’s note with alternative diagnosis is provided;
If a doctor’s note or negative COVID-19 tests are not provided, all individuals with one or more COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate for 10 days beyond the onset of symptoms and be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school. This includes those with allergies/migraine or other chronic conditions with COVID-19-like symptoms;
If a person is identified as having had close contact (within six-feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 15 cumulative minutes), there is a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, even if the close contact tests negative for the virus during the isolation period.
Based upon these guidelines, we must all prepare for a potential scenario in which a student must be required to remain home and experience prolonged out-of-school time once we commence in-person instruction. Students who are absent due to illness or quarantine will be provided with class materials and assignments, in alignment with our normal absence policy. If a student is absent for more than 10 school days, a parent may request for the student to be transferred to a virtual classroom for the duration of his or her absence.
FUTURE PLAN ADJUSTMENTS
While our goal remains to return to in-person instruction, with the revised IDPH guidelines in place, there are several scenarios that would require the District to reconsider a return to in-person learning:
Staffing shortages due to quarantine and/or illness;
Widespread illness and/or quarantine among students, causing disruption to continuity of instruction;
Substantial imbalance between in-person and virtual class size numbers, making the operation of both programs unsustainable;
Inability to meet IDPH guidelines; and
A government mandate to end in-person learning.
If the re-entry plan must be re-evaluated again, we will communicate with our parents and staff as soon as possible.
Although there were a few obstacles as we started the school year, we are confident our virtual instructional practices and protocols will provide a rich educational experience for students across the district.
Until we are able to resume in-person learning, students will continue with virtual instruction as they have been easing into over the last several days.
Our virtual learning website will be a helpful place for parents to get questions answered about instruction, tech support and assessment, among other topics. However, the first point of contact with questions directly related to a child’s schedule, assignments or instruction should be the classroom teacher.
We understand that this has been an immensely stressful time for our parents, staff, students and the entire District 15 community. We share your disappointment that we won’t be able to begin welcoming students back to school until the tentative start date of Monday, September 21. We will continue to update you on any changes to our plans as soon as new information becomes available.
Thank you for your continued understanding and flexibility as we navigate this unprecedented school year together.
Your partner in education,
Dr. Laurie Heinz
Superintendent of Schools