District 117 Cautiously Optimistic While Awaiting Updated COVID Guidelines

By Jeremy Coumbes on January 4, 2022 at 3:37pm

The Superintendent of District 117 is remaining cautiously optimistic while hoping for updated guidance for schools in the coming weeks.

District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek sent an update Monday afternoon ahead of the return to school today. Ptacek says District 117 has received a lot of calls after the Illinois Department of Public Health announced it would be adopting the updated guidelines from the CDC on isolation and quarantine times for those who do not have symptoms of COVID-19. Ptacek says, however, the new guidelines do not apply to K through 12 schools.

Currently when it comes to COVID there are no changes at all. We are awaiting updated school guidance, and to be honest, hoping that will reduce the days for at least exclusions. Because once again our data is not showing that any of our students that are excluded are ending up turning positive.

So we are definitely advocating for exclusions to be shortened without any symptoms. But we’ve had a lot of calls about, does that changes the amount of time for our students, and currently no. Nothing changes.” Ptacek says the District is ready if a surge in new cases of COVID hits the schools following the holiday break.

Last year after Thanksgiving it did not happen and after Christmas, it didn’t happen. This year after Thanksgiving we did see an increase. So we are hoping it more replicates last year than this year’s Thanksgiving.

But across the state the numbers are increasing, that’s the reports, and we did yesterday get a couple of more staff confirmations. So we will just be ready to respond as necessary.” Ptacek said in Monday’s statement that he would notify parents and faculty alike as soon as a new recommendation comes down, even if there are no changes.

During the 2020/21 school year, District 117 was one of only a handful of school districts statewide that went the entire school year without having to close and move all classes to remote learning. Ptacek says the numbers show that regardless of the politics, the mask-wearing in schools is working.

Since this started in March of 2020 (of course they weren’t in school at the end of 2020) but all the 2020/21 school year and this half of the school year. With our, as I’ve said at one time, our five hundred thousand potential incidents of daily events and interactions, we have had two positive confirmed cases and one of those I think was in a situation without masks – Lunch or something similar as that.

That definitely shows that for our situational [use of] masks are working because we’ve had a lot of students excluded under the guidelines and they are not turning positive.”

Ptacek also updated the District on changes coming during the new semester. Starting this year, Prek-12 students in Illinois can use up to 5 mental health days each school year.

He says the law was put in place to help provide support for students, however, he asks that it not be viewed as simply extra “days off”. He says per the law after a second day is used, the student may be referred to the school counselor, school social worker, or an outside agency, depending upon what they feel the needed support should be.

Also announced was a change in schedule next month as the scheduled SIP day for Wednesday, February 16th is being moved up to Friday, January 14th to accommodate a booster shot clinic for staff. The boosters will be available for any staff member who wishes to receive a shot. The clinic is being held by the Morgan County Health Department.