Glenbrook 225 decides on softer approach to more COVID testing, opt-outs
The Glenbrook High Schools District 225 board of education on Monday relented on the more stringent moves it suggested Jan. 11 regarding COVID testing and challenging students who opted out of testing.
Those ideas had included mandatory testing of students involved in or even attending all activities, not just the higher-risk ones.
On Jan. 11 the board also had broached "alternative education" options in lieu of suspension for those who did not test.
For one thing, District 225 Superintendent Charles Johns said consultations with the board's legal counsel, Himes, Petrarca & Fester, and related court cases allowed little wiggle room in mandating testing or vaccination -- though that was debated later in Monday's meeting.
Primarily, in another fact-finding mission assigned the superintendent after Jan. 11, the contract to use the SHIELD testing platform does not budge in requiring informed consent, or opting out of tests.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not indicate whether informed consent requires an opt-in or an opt-out, but no matter what they (families) have to have freedom to be able to choose," said Johns, who had supported an opt-out option from the start.
"Our law firm also reiterated after looking over the contract (with SHIELD) that we have to have informed consent if we're going to continue to test using SHIELD. We know of no other test that is validated to have a student be excluded from school or quarantined that does not require some form of informed consent. So there's not another test that meets our needs that we can move to," Johns said.
Prior health guidance advised that student exclusions -- reduced to 5 days from 10 as of Jan. 13 -- be reserved for positive or probable cases of COVID, not for refusing to take tests.
Johns said the Illinois State Board of Education noted suspensions are warranted for proof of threats "much more drastic and severe than getting a student sick."
Johns didn't back alternative education formats due to assumed difficulty in obtaining an individualized remote learning agreement between families and the district. Though he said "e-learning academies" might be of interest down the road, starting a program which could involve synchronous instruction to begin the second semester was not the way to go.
He did not recommend expanding testing to other student activities, many of which he said were no more risky than regular classrooms.
"Moving into the clubs and activities only is another reason for kids not to participate, and I advise against it," Johns said.
Aside from legality and practicality, the board was encouraged by the results of SHIELD testing performed the week after low numbers of staff forced an adaptive pause on Jan. 6-7. The results of testing done the days after winter break seemed to trigger the more extreme considerations in the Jan. 11 meeting.
The positivity rate in the most recent school testing was 4.5% compared to 10.2% in "Glenbrook" ZIP codes on Jan. 17. As importantly in the eyes of the board members, only 134 "unaccounted" students who hadn't taken the test or opted out compared with 484 in the prior testing period.
"We have met the objective for our testing," Johns said. "Expanding it doesn't really help us a whole lot. We have a strong sense for what sort of positivity levels we have in our buildings. And ... it's quite good."
There were cautionary considerations. Should positivity and exclusions again spike, board Vice President Peter Glowacki and board member Marcelo Sztainberg sought to retain additional testing beyond the next scheduled round, after spring break.
Board member Skip Shein, Bruce Doughty's predecessor as board president, wondered if vaccinations might be mandated within Illinois Administrative Code's protection against communicable diseases. Like measles, he wondered if it could be part of students' annual health exams.
"There is legal argument ..." Johns said.
Despite Shein's reminder that Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South had closed less than three weeks ago, the board as a whole concurred with Johns' more lenient recommendations.
"I agree that what we're doing now is sufficient. Whether we're lucky or we did the right thing we have results that are helpful to us, and we move forward," board member Joel Taub said as the meeting entered its third hour.
"I think what the public should understand, those still listening, is that the only thing that the school board wants is to maintain the school open because of the mental health issues that we've all talked about."