COVID Causing Problems To Begin School Year in JSD 117

By Benjamin Cox on August 30, 2021 at 10:28am

Jacksonville School District 117 is seeing the effects of the Delta variant transmission of COVID-19 in the community firsthand.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Steve Ptacek told the Board of Education that the highest number of students under quarantine in one day was surpassed on the second day of school this year. The highest number of in-school quarantines last year at the height of the early days of the pandemic was 50 on November 23rd. On Tuesday, the district had 51 with expectations that number was projected to grow.

Ptacek says the virus is definitely making its impact felt here at the outset of the school year: “The COVID numbers are [high]. This is impacting our students much more than it did last year. Our staff numbers are great. I think if you read reports from across the country, this is becoming much more of an impact on our young people than it was from 2020 into 2021. We had 51 students that were quarantined due to being in close contact with a student at school. That was Tuesday’s number. Our high last year was 50 in one day, so we beat the number of students that were quarantined at the beginning of our second week of school compared to at the height of last year. That’s concerning. We have to start looking at ways that we are minimizing the impact of what one student who brings the virus to school, because all of this is outside of school transmission.”

Ptacek says he’s going to be tracking COVID-19 at least every other day and posting it to social media and the district’s website for the public. Ptacek says discussions have begun on structural changes that may be taking place to limit the number of people students come into contact with from day-to-day: “I want to give it at least another week of analyzing the data to see if we need to go to a change. We might need to talk about another form of block scheduling to limit the number of classes each student goes to each day; and therefore, that would limit the number of students they are in contact with each day. In other words, last year, when a student came to school if they were positive, they went to 3 classes, no lunch, they went home. Their potential impact on other students was just that – the 3 classes. Now, the structure is 7 classes with lunch, and I think that’s one reason why we are seeing the number of close contacts increase. We might have to start thinking outside the box on some different ways to provide that structure, and we’re not talking about going back to just the 5 hours a day right now. We are talking about within that regular, daily hour schedule some ways to altering that structure to minimize the number of contacts each student is close to.”

Ptacek says despite the push back from part of the community on the statewide in-school mask mandate; data has shown, at least locally, that masks work based upon data from last year: “I do know this. Last year, the entire year, when we have masks on for our students and our staff, we have one potential transfer [in school] to a student the entire year. I say potential because we do know that the students might have been together with each other hanging out outside of school also, but we couldn’t guarantee that, so we put it as a potential transfer at school. Early in the year, before everybody understood the impact that this would have, we did have a lunch where 5 staff members took their masks off and ate in a room together and all of them became positive. That data right there, while it’s not scientific, it’s not done by a research company through the CDC or anything else, tells us that our success last year was because people had masks on. Other than the ISBE saying it’s mandated we have them and holding schools accountable if they don’t mandate them, that number says if we want to keep our schools open and keep as many kids in school possible, that we need to maintain wearing masks.”

As of the data released on Tuesday, the district has 25 positive cases with 128 students in quarantine.