District 47 board candidate disregarded contact tracing order, records show

  • Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 school board candidate Cascia Talbert

    Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 school board candidate Cascia Talbert

Updated 3/16/2021 8:51 AM

A social media post by a Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 board candidate last month suggesting she would ignore the district's request for her to quarantine her kids led to concerned parents and residents reaching out to the district, the McHenry County Department of Health and the Crystal Lake Police Department, records show.

Cascia Talbert, who currently is not a member of the school board but is running for a spot in the upcoming election, posted an email from a school nurse saying a person who rode on a district bus tested positive for COVID-19, according to screenshots of the Facebook post sent into the Northwest Herald. According to the email, Talbert should quarantine her children if they were on the bus that day.


Talbert declined to be interviewed for this story, but district communication shows Talbert took her sons to school after being told to quarantine and as a result, they were placed in the school's quarantine room to wait for her to pick them up.

According to a draft of an email from the school's principal to Talbert, Talbert told the school her children were not on the bus that day but video footage from the buses show they were.

"Parents need to stop reporting COVID cases," Talbert wrote in her Facebook post. "If your child is sick, have him or her stay home. If your child has COVID and you report it to the school, it hurts all the other kids that are in close contact with your child."

Talbert implored other families to "end this madness."

"I am ignoring this email and driving my boys to school," according to the screenshots.

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Talbert told in an email district officials she would excuse her children from school until they are let in the building, saying that "learning remotely for them is just the same as not going to school at all."

Talbert's email was one of several obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the email, she told school officials she was "extremely upset" with how her children's school and District 47 dealt with the issue.

"You are placing fear ahead of the best interests of the other children on that bus," she wrote in the email.

Denise Barr, the district's spokeswoman, said she couldn't comment on Talbert's post, but the health and safety of students remains a top priority for the district, which is following health protocols based on guidelines set by the Illinois Department of Public Health, McHenry County Department of Health, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As previously reported by the Northwest Herald, Superintendent Kathy Hinz said most of the close contact that could lead to transmission of COVID-19 is occurring not in classrooms, but on school buses.


At least 16 people wrote to board members and district administrators -- as well as the McHenry County health department and the Crystal Lake Police Department -- with concerns about Talbert's post.

One person said what Talbert posted on social media has "far-reaching consequences." A couple of parents expressed concern about their children possibly coming into contact with students who had not quarantined, and another called Talbert's actions "reckless and selfish."

Hinz told the parents the district was aware of the post and would continue to implement and follow health and safety protocols.

When a positive case of COVID-19 is identified involving staff or students, administrators, staff and school nurses begin the contact tracing process, which helps determine who needs to quarantine and when they can return to school.

"We spend an enormous time on contact tracing, as have many districts," Barr said.

Bus drivers, for instance, are made aware of when it's OK for a student to get back on the bus. Quarantined students are not allowed in classrooms or the bus until they have completed the isolation period and do not present any COVID-19 symptoms.

"If a parent does not adhere to the recommended isolation, or quarantine instructions, or follow the district guidelines for the safe return to school, the student will be placed in a remote learning classroom," Barr said.

This has not been a situation District 47 has faced, however, Barr said.

Barr said District 47's doing a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure accuracy in its contact tracing process.

"This is for the health and safety of everyone and so that we can keep our schools open," Barr said. "It's a community effort to prevent the spread of this pandemic and to keep our schools open. We expect and rely on our families to do their part in supporting the schools and even the broader community by following the protocols."

Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 has also been working with families during the contact tracing process, and to explain their quarantine and isolation procedures, District 155 spokeswoman Shannon Podzimek said.

"We emphasize to our families that we are trying hard to maintain a safe and healthy in-person academic setting and that only works when our families are truthful and honest about their situation so we can follow protocols," Podzimek said in an email. "Parents may not be happy, but we do our best to explain this is a unique year, we are in a pandemic and these procedures apply to all students and staff so we can maintain a healthy and safe in-person learning model."

An attendance procedure is in place to make sure quarantined students or staff members do not enter District 155 schools until they have received approval to do so.

If a student who is supposed to be isolating arrives at school, the school nurse will confirm whether they have documentation from a health care provider or the health department that allows them to return to school, Podzimek said. If this documentation is not provided, students are sent home and reminded of the date they can return.

Isolation and contact tracing guidelines come from the health department, and so even if someone disagrees with the protocols, the district's hands are tied, District 47 board member Emily Smith said in an interview with the Northwest Herald.

"I feel it is our responsibility to follow the guidelines that have been put in place so that the students going to school in a hybrid model are able to continue going to school, and it's our responsibility as parents to follow those guidelines so that everyone feels safe and comfortable and can continue in the hybrid method if that's what they have chosen," Smith said.

Although students are provided work while quarantined, Smith said she hopes some real-time remote learning will be available in the future.

Currently, District 47 students who are isolating or quarantining at home work on asynchronous educational activities and connect with the teacher via Seesaw, an online platform that students and teachers can communicate and share work through, Barr said.

"Moving forward, we will be enhancing this procedure to include a substitute teacher, who will be available during the school day to help students with assignments, answer questions, etc.," Barr said.

At District 155, students in quarantine or isolation who feel well enough can attend classes remotely, and students can access class materials through Canvas, the district's learning management system, Podzimek said.

Anytime a student needs to be quarantined is disappointing because of the emotional challenges associated with isolation, District 47 board member Jonathan Powell said. But he said he still thinks it is important to follow the science and recommendations of the health department.

"That is, first and foremost, what we should be doing," he said.

District 47 board member Betsy Les said she thinks the district has done an excellent job on contact tracing, with school nurses working diligently with classroom teachers.

"I am very optimistic that our parents are closely monitoring their students, and let us know when there's a problem," Les said.

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