Libertyville, Vernon Hills high school students will get COVID-19 tests when they return

Returning to classrooms for many students at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools will include a weekly, on-site COVID-19 test.

Teachers, too, are part of the voluntary program officials in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 have been working furiously to ready for hybrid learning, which begins Tuesday.

Teachers who returned to school buildings this week were given tests in a practice run to spot issues and fine-tune procedures.

"We're as ready as we've ever been or ever will be for students to come back," Superintendent Prentiss Lea told parents Tuesday during a nearly two-hour informational webinar.

The school board in late November unanimously voted to return to in-person learning. On Jan. 4, a contract with Passport Health to provide Abbott's BinaxNOW tests and testing services at both high schools was approved.

Lea and school board President Pat Groody described the process to implement on-site testing as an important yet "arduous, challenging journey."

During the past few weeks, teams have been working on logistics such as facilities and scheduling, the consent process and using the associated Abbott NAVICA app, among other processes and protocols.

In addition to measures already in place, school officials regard the self-administered swab testing to be added protection for students and staff, who will be reporting in person for the first time this school year.

"This is one more layer of mitigation," Groody said. "It's an important one."

Tests will be done on-site at both schools, with results available in about 15 minutes. Those who test positive are retested and may need to quarantine at home for 10 days.

About 3,400 students combined attend both high schools, with about 75% of those at Libertyville and 35% at Vernon Hills selecting in-person learning.

Groody and others say testing is important in quelling the spread of coronavirus in the communities at large as well as the school buildings.

While testing is voluntary, district officials say it's critical to have a "very high level" of student participation to make it effective and keep schools open

"We really want to achieve a target participation rate of 80%," Groody said. "It's free testing and it's definitely going to be helpful in keeping our COVID incidence rate low."

District 128 is paying for the program, which will cost from $430,000 to $810,000, depending on how long testing continues.

About 82% of staff registered for the first stand-alone testing days, Jan. 11 and 12, and district officials expect that to increase when the weekly testing schedule begins next week.

Testing is voluntary because state law doesn't require students be tested to attend school and the district doesn't want to spend time on potential legal challenges, according to Lea.

"We really wanted to get this up and running," he said.

For the majority of young people who contract the coronavirus, the likelihood of infecting others is much higher outside the school environment, said Scott Morcott, a physician with Passport Health.

"What we're trying to do is decrease the number of people who have COVID-19 in our community," he said. "We're trying to find people early and isolate them."

Returning to in-school learning has been a polarizing issue in District 128 and elsewhere, prompting many candidates to run for local school boards. In District 128, 11 candidates are running for four seats.

District 128 high school students can return to classroom

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