Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that the number of staff testing positive or in quarantine because of COVID-19 is going down but the numbers in the student population are rising. In email communication yesterday afternoon, Ptacek says that 18 staff are still out due to the virus – 13 are in quarantine while 5 are in isolation. He says the reduction in staff COVID numbers is helping to build confidence that the district won’t have to switch to full remote learning again.
However, Ptacek says that the number of student cases is growing concerning. Student quarantines more than doubled over the last week – going from 55 to 133 new quarantines. There has also been 2 more positive student cases in the district. He says there are currently 198 all together students in the district who are unable to come to school due to direct impact of the virus. A portion of these cases are linked to an outbreak at South Elementary, where 52 students are quarantined and 1 student is positive. Ptacek says he hopes more students who are in quarantine will be able to return over the next week: “This shows, once again, that our commitment to social distancing and masks is working at preventing any spread of the virus at JSD117. Please support our efforts to stay in-person by following social distancing and wearing a mask when around any non-family members.”
Ptacek says the district has been having meetings in preparation that the district would have to go fully remote again: “Moving to full-remote has become a realistic possibility. It has not yet moved into a probability. Each day we look at the numbers and the impact the virus is having on our ability to continue to provide in-person instruction. Last week’s reduced staff numbers are helping, but the increasing student quarantines are a major concern.”
He says the whole district’s model of learning is being strained by students wavering between in-person and remote learning, causing a temporary situation. He says if further strain is placed upon the district now having to teach to 3 separate modes of teaching – in-person, full remote, and temporary remote – the district may have to go fully remote to ease the strain across the board: “Currently, we can think of three different situations that could require a move to a full-remote program. I have previously mentioned the first two, a mandate to move, or our inability to provide the staff necessary to provide services, but last week a third possibility developed. The staff has been amazing in providing different educational formats this year. While our basic structure provides both in-person and full-remote instruction, every student placed in a two-week isolation or quarantine brings a new set of challenges. This is a growing category of temporary-remote students. As the number of temporary-remote students increases, our ability to provide adequate instruction to three different models becomes strained. Therefore, if a sizable portion of our in-person student body is placed in quarantine or isolation, we could have to move, even temporarily, to a full-remote model. At this time, we are not making that move. It has been our goal to provide in-person instruction, and we still hope to keep the District open throughout the pandemic.”
Ptacek urges parents and students in the district to continue to adhere to social distancing and mask wearing outside of school to keep in-person learning progressing forward. He says they are planning for multiple possibilities and hopes that things will positively progress in the week ahead.