COVID numbers spark switch to full remote learning in Oak Grove school district
One of the few school districts in Lake County that has operated all school year with students in classrooms will switch to full remote learning.
Parents in Oak Grove Elementary District 68 in Green Oaks have been notified of the "difficult decision" to switch from the in-school to the at-home model for all students from Dec. 1 through Dec. 18.
The move comes as the coronavirus incidence rate in the 60048 ZIP code has more than doubled, and other measurements, including new cases and hospital admissions, have put Lake County on the state warning list, according to Superintendent Allison Sherman.
Those factors and the possible danger of the virus spreading as a result of Thanksgiving gatherings were major factors in the decision, she said.
"While we know our school has strong mitigation strategies in place, we also know none of us operate solely in the 'bubble' of our school," she told parents.
Since Aug. 20, about 70% of the single-school district's enrollment of about 900 has been attending class at the K-8 school on O'Plaine Road.
In a letter to parents, Sherman said weekly conversations with health officials show a majority of current cases are not from travel but small social gatherings with family and friends and student extracurricular activities.
"In addition, it is most often asymptomatic individuals who are unfortunate carriers to other family members and close friend circles," she told parents.
The evaluation of metrics from local, state and federal health agencies, and school positivity rate and the availability of staff from quarantine were other factors, Sherman said.
The successful implementation of "two robust learning environments" was a "remarkable" achievement, she added, and the priority is to return as soon as the metrics deem possible.
The decision was based on input from the school board, district legal counsel and the teachers union.
"We continue to use mitigation procedures in the building and will continue to be vigilant to keep our school community safe," said Erin Smith, president of the 90-member union.
"We support the decision to go remote at this time but look forward to returning in person," she said.
School board President Tony Giamis said a limited number of students and faculty members have had to quarantine because of exposure to other family members testing positive. None were in the same grade, he noted, which would have been considered a cluster event.
"Our spacing/distancing, our use of masks and hand-washing have created an environment that has led to zero cases at the school," he said.
That may not continue if community numbers continue to climb, he said, which is why the district wanted to be cautious after Thanksgiving and wait for the data to stabilize.
Students don't have school next week because of parent/teacher conferences, and winter break follows the end of the switch to remote learning. Parents will be notified on or before Dec. 30 regarding a return to school Jan. 4.
The much smaller neighboring Rondout Elementary District 72, which also began the school year with in-person learning, switched to all remote Oct. 26.
Rondout has set up supports such as weekly home deliveries of materials, resources and library books, said Superintendent Jenny Wojcik. The district also has a help desk open daily on Zoom, and administrators have done "driveway calls" to provide tech support.