With hybrid learning starting next week, District 204 eyeing COVID-19 testing, vaccination plans
Set to begin a hybrid learning model next week, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 is looking ahead to possible COVID-19 screening and vaccination strategies to support its reopening plans.
The voluntary surveillance test would not be diagnostic, but it could help identify potential virus cases among staff members and students in some grade levels, Superintendent Adrian Talley said this week. Other nearby districts, including Naperville Unit District 203 and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, are implementing similar screening procedures this month.
District 204 school board members are expected to hear a presentation Jan. 25 about the testing program, including the terms of a proposed contract and details pertaining to who will qualify.
"The testing will allow us to be better prepared to respond to the ever-changing environment and hopefully allow us to continue offering in-person learning for the remainder of the year," Talley said.
More than 300 district employees are slated to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting next week, thanks to a partnership with Jewel-Osco and the Will County Health Department, Talley said. Phase 1a staff members include occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists and nurses.
Local health and school officials are developing vaccination plans for educators and others who fall into the phase 1b category, he added.
Most students have been learning remotely since last spring, though some pilot program classes and specialized groups returned to the classroom on a limited basis in the fall. But a surge in COVID-19 cases and reported staffing shortages forced the district to pause its back-to-school plans before Thanksgiving break.
Administrators have since refined the metrics used to help guide decisions for reopening schools, Talley said, pointing to ZIP code-specific data from Northwestern University now used in coordination with local health department metrics.
Moving forward, three criteria must be met to trigger a pause of in-person learning: when DuPage County has substantial community spread for three consecutive weeks, per the health department; when weekly case counts per 100,000 people have increased for three consecutive weeks; and when Northwestern University data reflects a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 12% or higher.
Only the first measure currently applies, Talley said, meaning the district is on track to begin the hybrid schedule. Additional measures taken into account include outbreaks or contact tracing issues, the availability of personal protective equipment, and adequate staffing levels.
Preschoolers, kindergartners through second-graders, pilot program students and others in specialized groups will be the first to return to the classroom next week, officials said. Third- through fifth-graders, sixth-graders and high-schoolers are scheduled to join the week of Jan. 25, and seventh- and eight-graders would make the transition starting Feb. 1.
An online-only option also is available.
District officials have faced criticism the last several months from community members pushing for schools to reopen. Remote learning has negatively impacted some students' grades, parent Jeffrey Meltzer told the board this week, saying he believes the hybrid model should have been implemented early in the school year.
But school board members defended the district's actions to date, saying administrators have adapted to changing conditions while working to get students and employees back in schools safely.
"I believe our administration has come up with the best plan possible considering the situation and our circumstances," board Vice President Justin Karubas said. "I applaud the direction it's going based on our numbers (and) based on what we know."