District 225 board considers tougher COVID testing policy

 
 
Posted1/13/2022 8:00 AM

The Glenbrook High Schools District 225 board of education will consider stricter COVID testing procedures and consequences for opting out of testing.

At Monday's meeting the board took a more serious stance after 623 students opted out of last week's testing.

 

"I'm OK with people opting out," said board member Marcelo Sztainberg. "I'm not OK with people opting out and coming to school."

The number of student opt-outs has increased each time the district has held mass testing -- after Halloween and Thanksgiving and winter breaks.

In the initial testing on the first couple days of classes last August, out of about approximately 5,160 students 23 of them submitted opt-out forms.

Associate Superintendent R.J. Gravel said Monday that 3,581 students took the SHIELD tests when they returned from winter break.

After Thanksgiving break, 4,143 student tests were administered, with 247 opt-outs and 615 students unaccounted for various reasons. The data for last week's unaccounted students was not yet available on Monday.

Superintendent Charles Johns said 510 students had been in COVID isolation Sunday, down from 597 on Jan. 6. By Monday the figure had dropped to 478. Staff exclusions numbered 75 on Sunday but, by Monday, had dropped to 49 quarantines plus about 30 diagnostic quarantines that kept them off-campus while awaiting results, Johns said.

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The board had informed Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South communities on Jan. 5 that, due to an inability to staff classes, school would head into an adaptive pause from in-person learning starting Jan. 6. In-person learning is scheduled to return Jan. 18, along with another two-day round of testing at each school.

The board also instituted a "no-harm" policy for this week's final exams, which also were made optional.

Johns said the Illinois State Board of Education and the Cook County Department of Public Health had both planned to follow the Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in shortening quarantines to 5 days from 10.

That guidance did not arrive until Tuesday night, District 225 communications manager Christina Salonikas said Wednesday morning, and as of press time was still being reviewed.

On Monday, board member Skip Shein, not in favor of allowing students to opt out of testing, said he thought a shorter quarantine might mitigate opt-outs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Johns favored retaining the opt-out measure, particularly since he said the contract to provide SHIELD testing required an opt-out provision, as does the CDC and the IDPH.

"We're heading down a potentially highly litigious path," Johns said.

"I have read the documents from the testing service," Shein said. "It does not say you have to offer an opt-out. It simply says you have to obtain consent. Those are two very different things."

Those who choose to opt out of testing are still due an education by state law -- "we can't suspend them eternally," Johns said -- and the agreement with the Glenview Education Association does not allow for hybrid teaching.

The decision came to look into options offering a core curriculum taught remotely, or another remote platform such as the current Edgenuity program in which students are taught by a third-party provider.

Board President Bruce Doughty was unenthused about the prospect of a "super-basic" core curriculum: "We've never run our district that way," he said.

Students in athletics and performing arts have had the option of weekly testing or providing proof of vaccination, but they and others not formerly under that rule may see expanded testing. Gravel suggested mandating testing for students in any activity. Board members thought it appropriate.

"Our students have a right to an education, specified by case law in the state constitution," Johns said. "But they don't necessarily have the same right to participate in any co-curricular activities -- or to attend any co-curricular activities as a spectator or an audience member. That is another step we could take toward more uniform testing."

The logistics on enforcing that are to be determined.

"I can definitely have input on that coming back for the next meeting," Johns said.

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