Blythe Park School student Zaire Brown (left) gets help from nurse Sadona Kinjo, a Shield Illinois staff employee responsible for collecting saliva samples weekly from students as part of District 96’s testing program. District 96 and LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 are the only local districts doing weekly saliva testing this school year. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

An entire fifth-grade section at Brook Park School in LaGrange Park has been placed on a 14-day quarantine after three students in the class tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

“We shut down a fifth grade classroom on Friday,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, who declined to say which fifth-grade class at Brook Park was placed in quarantine. Kuzniewski said there are 24 students in the class.

The three students who tested positive worked closely together on a project in their STEAM class, Kuzniewski said.

“That’s where they were kind of close contacts to one another, because they were working on a project with one another,” Kuzniewski said.

The class is the second class in the Landmark’ coverage area to be placed in quarantine. Two weeks ago, a second-grade section at Ames School in Riverside was quarantined after four students tested positive for COVID-19. The Ames School students are scheduled to return to their classroom on Oct. 7.

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Quarantined classes are taught remotely while the students are at home.

The Brook Park fifth-grade section placed in quarantine will not return to their classroom until Oct 13, two weeks after the last contact with the three infected students, who were last in class on Sept. 28.

So far this school year, 13 Brook Park students have tested positive for COVID-19, along with four students at S.E. Gross Middle School. No District 95 staff members have tested positive so far in the current school year.

Fifteen students in Riverside Elementary School District 96 have tested positive for COVID-19, eight of them at Ames School, since the school year began in late August. One District 96 staff member has tested positive since school began in August. 

District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye declined to say whether the infected staff member had been vaccinated against COVID-19 or what kind of job the staff member does.

The seven staff members in District 96 who are not vaccinated are required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing under a state order.

At Riverside-Brookfield High School, 15 students and three staff members, two of whom are teachers, have tested positive for COVID-19. Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana said all three staff members who tested positive had received the COVID-19 vaccine. 

District 96 and LaGrange-Brookfield Elementary School District 102 are the only area school districts conducting weekly saliva testing for COVID-19. All school districts in Illinois are eligible for weekly free saliva testing from Shield, a testing program developed by the University of Illinois. 

This year families of 88 percent of District 96 students have consented to have their students tested.

“It’s another layer of protection,” Ryan-Toye said.

But Kuzniewski doesn’t think that the salvia testing is worth the cost of instructional time and the associated bother of the test.

“We looked at the districts that did saliva testing last year and … the numbers were not, in my mind, significantly impacted by doing the salvia testing,” Kuzniewski said. “Number two, our protocols that we already had in place and the manner in which we were able to keep kids in school didn’t seem to warrant the need to do it. … It disrupts the instructional time and there’s a management piece to it and then there’s follow up to that many tests.”

Unlike the testing that Districts 96 and 102 did last year, the Shield testing is done at the schools by staff who come to the schools once a week. Students trek out into a hallway and are given vials to collect salvia. It can be a challenge, especially for younger students, to get enough salvia into the vial to do the test. 

“Remember you want to drool into the tube, don’t spit,” Blythe Park Principal Casimira Gorman instructed second-graders recently at Blythe Park School. 

Gorman also instructed students to rub their cheeks to build up saliva. It takes a class about 10 to 15 minutes to collect enough salvia that is then transported for testing.

“[The students] know it’s to keep them safe and healthy, they’ve been really good about it,” Gorman said.

The Landmark was allowed to photograph and observe the saliva testing in District 96 but not allowed to interview students about it.