More DuPage schools go all-remote as COVID-19 cases surge
Glenbard High School District 87 moved to entirely remote learning Monday as COVID-19 case rates are climbing steeply in DuPage County, while other school systems are warning the surge threatens to halt in-person classes.
The district temporarily suspended face-to-face instruction for at least three weeks after the county logged a weekly infection rate of 312 new cases per 100,000 people -- a new high.
School leaders elsewhere have kept classrooms open, but they're growing increasingly concerned with staffing levels as more employees are having to quarantine. Administrators also are bracing for the county's infection counts to only get worse in the weeks after Thanksgiving break. Experts have repeatedly warned against large family gatherings that could spread the virus.
Less than a month ago, Glenbard schools launched a hybrid learning model on the same day Naperville and Elmhurst districts announced their students would continue or revert to distance learning. While the county had reached a "substantial" level of community transmission, Glenbard administrators expressed confidence in mitigation measures within school walls.
But over the last two weeks, the district had 54 students and 13 employees test positive for COVID-19, representing a 217% increase for the staff and a 270% increase for students over the previous two-week period.
"While we are unaware of any transmission vectors in our schools so far, we have seen an increase in positive test results that list 'unknown' as the infection point," Glenbard Superintendent David Larson said Monday. "This is one of the signs that community transmission is occurring."
The district is taking a "safety pause" until the county's test positivity rate and the number of cases per 100,000 indicate it is safe to resume a mix of in-person and virtual classes, Larson said last week.
Before the shutdowns, 43% of students districtwide elected a remote learning option, up from 25% since the end of September.
"Unknown infections coupled with the exponential increase in the key data points for the county and our school district attendance areas have created a combination of factors that create an unsafe school environment," Larson said in a statement.
In Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, school board members at a meeting Wednesday will consider whether to pause in-person instruction, taking into account the various learning models by grade level. Thanksgiving break is scheduled to start Nov. 23.
"We certainly know that health and safety of our students and our staff has to be an utmost priority," Superintendent Jeff Schuler said. "However, we understand and know that remote learning is a struggle and has been a challenge for students."
The district reported five students and two employees with positive tests across an early childhood center and 13 elementary schools for the week ending Nov. 1, the most recent data available. A total of 29 students and eight staff members at those grade levels have tested positive since the school year began Sept. 1.
At the middle and high schools, the district had 15 students test positive during the last reporting period, bringing the total to 41.
Through contact tracing, officials are not finding evidence of transmission within schools, Schuler said.
"But again, as numbers increase, especially at the secondary level, there is obviously a point of concern about that moving forward," he said.
Every week, the district also tracks the maximum number of staff quarantines recorded in any given day. As many as 27 employees were recently kept out of the district's schools.
"That increase in the need to quarantine, especially at the middle and high schools, is stretching our ability to staff our classrooms," Schuler said in a letter to families last week. "While we are working to increase our substitute teacher pool, we also need our students, families and staff members to do their part outside of the school building and day in mitigating the virus and the need to quarantine."
In Glenbard District 87, 232 students and 60 staff members have had to quarantine over the last two weeks, Larson said in a letter Friday.
The district is hiring substitute teachers, temporary supervisors and volunteers to assist with classroom and building roles, Larson said.