As coronavirus case numbers soar, suburban school districts are faced with increasingly difficult decisions about safe learning.
In Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205, students will go back to learning remotely for two weeks beginning Wednesday.
"Today could be my last day of school," said York High School senior, Miguel Montamez, who hopes to eventually major in music in college. "Luckily, I’m able to make beats at home. I have my program, but York has a bunch of equipment that’s super crucial. Everything comes out better here.”
Another senior, Abby Reich, is concerned about losing focus at home.
“I don’t really like it very much. It’s hard to pay attention and focus online at home where there [are] a lot of distractions, but I think it’s safer that way,” she said.
The decision is based on a single metric, according to Superintendent Dave Moyer. DuPage County is recording more than 100 cases a week per 100,000 residents.
“We want them in school, so we’re going to do what we can to get them back as soon as possible. [We] hope these trends start to turn around very quickly,” said Dr. Moyer. “We knew that the community would not react favorably. We know the kids do better when they are in school. I would call it a brutal decision for all of us.”
On Monday, the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) recommended schools in the county
stick to online learning as community transmission of the coronavirus becomes more widespread. The county is potentially facing new mitigation restrictions as a result of an elevated positivity rate in the region.
Despite the warning, some districts are moving forward with hybrid learning plans.
Glenbard District 87 says its metrics don’t meet the criteria to go fully remote. Downers Grove 58 also moved forward with its hybrid model this week. And in Wheaton, District 200 will welcome back all students for hybrid learning this week.
“We are certainly balancing and have said from the get-go that student [and] staff safety is of utmost priority for us. But we do want to provide a consistent learning environment as well,” said Superintendent Jeff Schuler.
CUSD 200 uses a variety of metrics and trends to make decisions about learning plans. Dr. Schuler says they are closely watching the rising case numbers in DuPage County, but for now, they will go forward with in-person learning plans.
“Clearly the data is of concern. The trend is of concern, and I think when you see data point that rises to that level, it heightens the need to look very closely for those trends and make sure we’re making good informed decisions,” he said.
According to the DCHD, the weekly case count in DuPage County has risen to 119 cases per 100,000 residents in the county, a 34% increase over last week. The county is currently adding an average of 211 new cases, every day. That’s its highest rate ever in the course of this pandemic.
School districts moving to hybrid learning models say they will keep a close eye on health metrics, and will not hesitate to move back to remote learning if required to do so.
In a statement, U46 said, “We are monitoring the COVID-19 positivity rate daily by county and even by zip code. We are proceeding with plans to implement some limited in-person instruction beginning Oct. 27 for our Pre-K-2 grades.”
District 211 tells NBC 5 in part, “As a District, we look at health metrics remaining in the “minimal” and “moderate” range as indicators that a safe learning environment can be provided for students and staff in the hybrid scenario. If a “substantial” designation for a single metric occurs, we will directly contact the Cook County Department of Public Health for an evaluation of the specific metric in relationship to our hybrid plan and an evaluation of the transmission levels within our school community and each school. Currently, all metrics are indicating a move to a hybrid scenario as early as Oct. 26.”
Naperville District 203 has halted its return to the classroom, and will continue e-learning through at least Nov. 4.