With schools across the Chicago area taking measures to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus, one suburban school has decided to excuse any and all absences due to illness.
Oak Park and River Forest High School said beginning Wednesday, any parent or guardian who informs the school of a child's absence due to illness will now be considered excused and will not count toward the school's 12-absence limit. The new policy will continue through the end of the semester, Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said in a letter to parents.
"One of the most important recommendations is for students to stay home when sick," Pruitt-Adams wrote. "To that end, we are altering our 12-day absence policy for illnesses."
The school is among several in the Chicago area monitoring cases of the coronavirus, which currently sit at four in Illinois.
Two Arlington Heights School District 25 employees and their children are staying home from work and school after a member of a babysitter's family was exposed to a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus, the district said in a letter to staff and students' families on Sunday.
The two staff members and their children work at or attend Dryden, Ivy Hill, Greenbrier and Olive Mary Stitt schools, Supt. Lori Bein said in the letter emailed to parents and staff.
Bein wrote that she was contacting families to share the information "out of an abundance of caution."
District officials reminded parents in the email that students should stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after there is no longer a fever or signs of a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medications). Parents whose children are absent from school were also asked to leave a detailed reason, describing any symptoms of illness, on the absence line.
New Trier High School Superintendent Paul Sally said last week the school is taking steps proactively to keep campuses safe.
"The primary way for students and staff to avoid influenza, COVID-19, and other viruses is hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if they have symptoms and/or a fever," Sally wrote in a letter to families. "Teachers are aware of the need to be flexible with students for making up work after an absence due to illness. We want to make it as easy as possible for families to make the decision to keep students home from school if they are not feeling well. If you have concerns about missed work due to illness, please contact your student's adviser, who can help create a plan with teachers."
He added the school's surfaces are being wiped down daily, classrooms are cleaned daily, bathrooms are disinfected, floors are being cleanred and common areas are sanitized.
"Since the flu season began, we also have taken additional disinfectant measures, such as the use of ultraviolet light to target germs in high-use areas of our campuses," Sally wrote.
The schools' director of communications Niki Dizon, later rectified the statement saying that "additional sanitizing measures do not involve ultraviolet light. Instead, we are using an electrostatic sanitizing spray that is specially designed to get on and under all surfaces in the areas in which it is sprayed."
He noted the school is preparing for the possibility of a large number of absences and has short- and long-term plans for closing campuses if necessary.
Similarly, Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 said "health officials have indicated that the risk to the general public remains low and they are not recommending canceling any classes or mass gathering."
"The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority," the district wrote. "Please be assured that we are following all recommended protocols of the IDPH, which includes routine cleaning and disinfecting in all of our buildings. We will continue to monitor updates about the coronavirus from local, state and federal agencies, and will keep families informed should recommendations change."
That same day, Barrington School District 220 wrote that it "continues to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Lake County Department of Public Health."
Earlier this month, Stevenson High School urged any student returning from mainland China from Feb. 3 and onward should not attend school for 14 days after their return to the U.S., according to guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"Family members should not work if they also traveled," the school's message read. "Students who returned from mainland China prior to Feb. 3, 2020 can remain in school."
The Illinois State Board of Education told NBC 5 it is "distributing to schools and districts the Illinois Department of Public Health’s guidance for schools." It also handed out travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State, the CDC and the World Health Organization.
"The Illinois State Board of Education highly recommends that any anticipated or planned travel to China should be postponed to a future date or canceled and replaced with another trip," the board said in a statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped up its call lsat month for the public to start preparing for a possible pandemic outbreak in the U.S.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” a top CDC official told reporters in a conference call outlining what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus starts to spread throughout the U.S.
Schools should consider dividing students into smaller groups or close and use “internet-based teleschooling,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.
She said local communities and cities may need to “modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings.” Hospitals may need to triage patients differently, add more telehealth services and delay elective surgery, she said.
“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing,” she said.
Chicago Public Schools nurse Dennis Kosuth told the New York Times, however, that some families who cannot afford childcare may not be able to keep their children at home, which could complicate containing a potential outbreak. He also said some schools lack rooms dedicated to health needs.
Localized outbreaks in places such as Italy and Iran are fueling concerns among infectious disease experts and scientists that the virus is spreading too quickly and may be past the point of containment.