By Chris Fox

For The Elmhurst Independent

The Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board held a regular meeting on Feb. 9 at the District 205 Center, 162 S. York St. All seven board members participated in the meeting, with some attending the meeting in person and others taking part virtually. It appeared from the Zoom recording of the meeting that board president Kara Caforio joined board members Jim Collins, Margaret Harrell and Karen Stuefen to attend in person, while Beth Hosler, Christopher Kocinski and Courtenae Trautmann attended remotely.

The start of the meeting was delayed for about an hour by technical difficulties. Some of the five community members who spoke during the public-participation segment at the beginning of the meeting noted those technical problems in voicing their criticisms of the district’s hybrid model of education, which includes in-person and virtual learning instruction. On Jan. 11, the district returned to a hybrid form of education after offering fully remote instruction since October 2020. The hybrid model includes a combination of in-person and remote learning.

Public forum brings out concerned residents

“I’m here tonight to advocate for increased time in the classroom for all D205 students, but I also want to point out what happened here tonight, with the Zoom difficulties, the problems with livestreaming, the inability for you all to get this meeting started on time, is what our little kids deal with every day,” said Elizabeth Thompson. “How are they supposed to navigate their education? I’m here at almost eight o’clock at night, with my four young children, who are past their bedtime, because I believe in each and every child in this district, and we are failing them.”

Thompson said the district’s plan to return to five days a week of in-person education was a step in the right direction. She said the next step should be a full schedule of in-person learning. “They are far too young to navigate e-learning,” said Thompson in speaking about the district’s youngest students. “They are far too young to navigate the Zoom issues that none of you could figure out tonight.”

Monte Weirman, who also spoke during the public-participation segment, stated that some private schools have had full-time, in-person instruction, since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Weirman also said that while the district doesn’t allow bullying in school, he felt the Elmhurst Teachers’ Council had been a bully in its negotiations with the district regarding policies and regulations related to COVID-19.

Shirley Stilson, the fifth and final speaker during the public-participation segment, said that she and her husband are both physicians who work in hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients.

“The risk to children in being out of school far outweighs any potential risk from this virus,” said Stilson, who mentioned there were zero COVID-19 related deaths among DuPage County residents 18 and under throughout 2020. Stilson also stated the hybrid model has failed the district’s children. Stilson said that fewer than half of the district’s teachers are physically in classrooms. She said that’s led students to ask why they should be in school when teachers are teaching from home. Additionally, Stilsonsaid that the district should eliminate its rule requiring 6 feet of social distancing. She also said the district should allow children to eat in school. Stilson said studies have shown that 3 feet of distancing is adequate to limit the spread of COVID-19 when masking and other mitigations are in place.

Later in the meeting, board members voted 5-2 to approve the district’s spring 2021 in-person learning plan. Before the vote, Superintendent David Moyer outlined the plan that the District 205 administration had developed. Moyer noted that the COVID-19 positivity rate has been dropping. He said the district met with a panel of local doctors on Feb. 1. Moyer said the district’s plan is predicated on reducing the social distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet.

Update on teachers’ COVID-19 vaccinations

Moyer said that several of the district’s teachers are getting closer to receiving their second round of COVID-19 vaccinations. He said that approximately 30 percent of the district’s staff had received its first COVID-19 vaccination.

Describing the district’s plan at the elementary level, Moyer said the district would start to bring back kindergarten and first-grade students to a full week of in-person instruction this week, beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Second-graders would return the following week, beginning on Feb. 22, while students in grades 3-5 would return to a full week of in-person learning on March 1.

Discussion turns to middle schools

In the middle school level, the district’s plan is to eliminate the A-B-C rotation at Bryan and Sandburg middle schools and drop down to an A-B rotation once teachers are fully vaccinated. In order to maintain 6 feet of social distancing, students in the hybrid model at each of those schools had to be divided into three groups (A, B and C). When teachers are vaccinated, and when 3 feet of social distancing between students is the guideline, the C rotation should be eliminated, with each school’s hybrid learners divided into two groups. The C rotation could be eliminated as early as the week of March 15.

Churchville Middle School will continue to have students attend school in person on Wednesdays in alternating weeks. In that format, one group of students in the hybrid model will attend school in person three days per week, while another will attend school in person two days per week. The groups will alternate the following week. Each group, therefore, will attend school in person for five out of 10 school days. Churchville students began attending school on alternate Wednesdays beginning Feb. 3. Students at Bryan and Sandburg will do the same when the C rotation is eliminated.

The in-person plan for York

According to the district’s spring 2021 in-person plan, York High School students will return to school four days per week as soon as the week of March 15. The plan calls for all York students to take part in a fully remote eight-period day each Wednesday.

According to the approved plan, the start times and end times of each school day will remain as they have been during remote and hybrid learning, said Moyer. The elementary school day runs from 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The middle school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The in-person school days at York will run from 7:40 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. The fully remote schedule each Wednesday will run from 7:40 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Under the district’s plan, masks would still be required. The rule of 3 feet of social distancing would apply to students, while social distancing of at least 6 feet between teachers and students would be maintained to the greatest extent possible. Teacher workstations will have clear barriers, said Moyer, who added that double masking is recommended and may be required at a future time.

Trautmann and Kocinski both voted against the spring 2021 in-person learning plan. Trautmann said she appreciated the work that went into developing the plan, but she couldn’t support elements of the plan, including the A-B schedule for middle schoolers.

Kocinski said that after staff members are fully vaccinated, he would like to see the district offer full school days at all levels.

Moyer said that any family that wants to participate in in-person learning will have to sign a consent to participate in mandatory surveillance screening.

Contract approved for saliva tests for students

In a second vote during the Feb. 9 meeting, board members voted unanimously to approve entering into a contract with Safeguard Surveillance, LLC, for an amount no greater than $660,000, to provide saliva surveillance screening through the end of the current school year. District officials described the saliva screening, which reportedly costs $11 per test, as another layer of security; the tests would not replace any measures but would complement them. According to the district, the saliva tests could help drive down overall COVID-19 rates in the community by alerting those who may need to quarantine.

The tests from Safeguard Surveillance are non-diagnostic. Anyone who submits a test that yields a significant viral finding will be advised to contact their doctor for further evaluation.

The tests will be mandatory for all district students in grades 6-12 who attend school in person. The tests will also be mandatory for students taking part in fully remote instruction who take part in any extracurricular school activity.

The saliva tests will be done weekly, beginning on March 5. The tests on March 5 and March 12 will allow for two tests before most district students return to a fuller schedule of in-person instruction on March 15.

Under the plan, students will receive bar-coded tubes. Students will submit a saliva sample into the tubes on Thursday night or Friday morning. They will drop those tubes in a bin at their school each Friday morning. The samples would be sent to a lab, and results would be available two days later, on Sunday. Schools would notify the family of any student whose test indicated a significant viral finding.

The district plans to use grant funds to cover the estimated cost of between $600,000 to $700,000 for the saliva tests for the remainder of the school year. According to the district, there are currently 1,807 middle school students in District 205 (712 at Bryan, 639 at Sandburg and 456 at Churchville). York High School has a total enrollment of 2,846. Each student who attends school in-person or participates in an extracurricular activity will reportedly take 12 tests over the rest of the school year. If all of the district’s 4,653 students took 12 tests at $11 per test for the rest of the school year, the total cost of the testing would be about $614,200. The district’s spring break takes place the week of March 29.

The board will hold its next regular meeting on Feb. 23.

 

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