Shortly before classes were scheduled to begin in person in Riverside School District 96, two representatives from the teachers’ union addressed the school board’s decision to conduct in-person learning.
According to a survey the union sent to district faculty, 60 percent of teachers were not in favor of starting classes in person. The reason was simple. Teachers would be at risk of exposure to COVID-19, putting them in danger and possibly exposing their own families.
At the time, the union indicated some comfort with protocols adopted by the school board to adhere to state guidelines on positivity rates in deciding when it might be time to shift to all-remote learning.
Now, two weeks into the school year Riverside District 96 has seen students at three of its five schools test positive for COVID-19. None of the cases, apparently, was contracted at school, but those positive tests have had a ripple effect.
In at least two of the cases, teachers and other staff at the school have been directed to quarantine for two weeks. Those teachers are now providing instruction from their homes to students in their classrooms, overseen by an aide.
In at least one of the instances, the Landmark has been told by a parent, nearly an entire classroom of students has been directed to quarantine for two weeks.
The same day parents in District 96 learned about the second student’s positive test, school officials in Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 sent an email to parents informing them that a student at Brook Park School had contracted the virus.
Of course, we would hope that these kinds of reports are rare in the future, but we doubt that these will be the last. If students are coming into classrooms, they are bringing with them their parents, siblings and anyone with whom those people might have come into contact.
So, far none of the cases reported at any of the schools involves the virus being spread from one student to another. That’s good, because once there’s evidence the virus is being spread around classrooms, then this experiment with in-person education during a pandemic must come to an end.
We must say that one thing we completely support is District 96’s move to hire a contact tracer to help quickly identify and notify close contacts in the case of a positive test. This ought to be something every public school district and private school ought to be doing.
Most likely this is going to be a part-time, on-call position but it’s critical to quickly determine who is at risk when someone in a classroom setting tests positive for COVID-19.
We urge other school districts and private schools to follow District 96’s example with respect to contact tracing. This is not going away in one month or one semester. Yes, dealing with this pandemic is mentally and emotionally exhausting, but we can’t let down our guard.