By Bob Skolnik
Running schools in the midst of a pandemic creates challenges, and a new job in at least one area school district.
Earlier this month, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education approved hiring an on-call, part-time contact tracer to track the contacts of any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19.
The new employee will probably be hired at the Sept. 16 school board meeting. District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said that she has a person in mind for the job who already has completed a contact tracing class.
Ryan-Toye said there were no positive tests of any District 96 student or staff member during the first week of school.
"With our goal to contain the virus in every possible way, we believe this is an added support to our school nurse who will likely or could be hearing from families that have a COVID positive situation in their home," Ryan-Toye said. "In those cases we need to quarantine students and we also need to understand other contacts, other contacts with other District 96 students specifically."
Ryan-Toye said that the district is adding this position because the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), does not currently have adequate staff to immediately help the district if a student or staff member tests positive.
In the event of a positive test in the district, the contact tracer would then question the person who tested positive to find out who that person had come into contact with. Those people would likely be instructed to quarantine for 14 days to prevent the virus from spreading.
"The aim [is] to identify and isolate infected people before they spread the virus," Ryan-Toye wrote in a memo to the school board asking them to approve the position.
The contact tracer would work as needed and be paid $18 an hour and receive no benefits. The memo said that the contact tracer would probably work from two to 20 hours a week. The person who will be hired will have completed an approved contact tracing class.
In the first three days of school fewer than 10 students were turned away from in District 96 buildings because they and their parents reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19. These symptoms included such common symptoms as cough, sore throat, fever, chills, headache, shortness of breath, and muscle pain.
"Unfortunately, we had to send a small number of children home due to cold-like symptoms and stomach ache, because they could be consistent with COVID," Ryan-Toye said. "This is how the IDPH guidelines read. You really cannot have any symptoms that might be consistent with COVID and stay in school."