By Bob Skolnik
Three students in Riverside Elementary School District 96 have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the new school year. The school district reported the first case in an email sent to parents on Sept. 11, the second case in an email on Sept. 13 and the third on Sept. 15.
The students do not attend the same school and there is no indication of student to student spread of the virus, District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said.
"The cases appear to be completely separate," Ryan-Toye told the Landmark on Monday.
According to the email sent to parents announcing the third positive COVID test on Sept. 15, the students attended Ames, Central and Hollywood schools.
Both Ames Principal Todd Gierman and Hollywood Principal Kim Hefner said that they could not comment.
More than just the students who tested positive have been asked to quarantine for two weeks. At Ames and Hollywood, the respective teachers have been told to quarantine as have some students who sat near the students who tested positive.
The teachers are now working remotely, while an aide provides in-classroom assistance on days when students attend class in person. It was not immediately clear if the teacher at Central School was also directed to quarantine.
"We have a number of teachers that may occasionally be shifted to remote teaching based on their unique circumstances, and that could be anything from having travelled to a quarantine state to being quarantined for their own possible COVID symptoms to possible exposure, whether it's in the school or outside the school," Ryan-Toye said.
One Hollywood School parent said that all but four of the students in the classroom where a student tested positive have been instructed to quarantine for two weeks.
"Out of an abundance of caution we have made recommendations that other students who were seated near, and that was six feet or more, to quarantine for now," Ryan-Toye said. "And that's a little bit more conservative and a little bit more cautious than the public health guidance, but it's the decision we made for now and we'll be monitoring that."
Ryan-Toye would not say when the students who tested positive last attended school. Other school staff who had close contact with the students who have tested positive also were told to quarantine.
The superintendent said she was disappointed to have three positive COVID tests so early in the school year.
"I'm surprised, I'm disappointed, it's unfortunate. We'll keep working through it," Ryan-Toye said. "Our guidance and guidelines are very clear. They present challenges in terms of enacting them, and we have to remain confident that our protocols and procedures work and we will not see student to student spread. If we see student-to-student spread, we would be making a very different decision about school staying open."
Ryan-Toye said that the three students who tested positive caught the virus outside of school.
"Both were exposed outside of the school setting, and that information was shared with us directly," Ryan-Toye said.
Ryan-Toye said it is important that parents share information about their students' health with school officials.
"We're appreciative of parents who've been willing to share this information with us and we encourage parents to have open lines of communication with us, because it's very important for us to know what's going on in family situations and in neighborhoods or pods of children," Ryan-Toye said. "Communication directly with parents is very valuable."
District 96 is offering both hybrid and remote learning models this year. Hybrid-learning students attend school in person about half the time and remotely the rest of the time. Those using the remote-learning option do not attend class in person.
Seventy percent of District 96 students are enrolled in the hybrid plan. Ryan-Toye said Monday afternoon that no parents had requested to take their child out the hybrid plan as a result of the positive tests.
Ryan-Toye said that as long as there is no evidence of students infecting other students and staff at school and the positivity test rate in suburban Cook County stays below 8 percent, she would keep schools open.
She said that she would switch to remote learning if she thought she could no longer operate a safe school district.
"An outbreak, by public health, is defined as a situation where two or more children in the same class present as COVID-positive, which could be indicative of student-to-student spread," Ryan-Toye said. "That is not what we have."