Ptacek: “It has been the most challenging week since COVID began.”

By Jeremy Coumbes on January 19, 2022 at 4:26pm

That is the opening line to a communication by District 117 School Superintendent Steve Ptacek late this afternoon to update the current status of the district.

Ptacek says in the communication that he was ready to use two emergency days and close school for a long weekend due to the number of students and staff currently absent in an effort to avoid more students falling behind and allow case numbers to fall.

Ptacek says after speaking with healthcare officials in Morgan County, closing school could have a worse effect than on education. Ptacek says before making the call to close, he contacted Morgan County Health Director Dale Bainter who knew the hospital had concerns. Ptacek says a call to Dr. Scott Boston, CEO of Jacksonville Memorial Hospital changed everything.

Ptacek says Jacksonville Memorial is also facing its most challenging period since COVID began and regularly averages 4 patients in ICU. Currently, there are 15 ICU patients and 10 of those are on ventilators.

The hospital has 3 times its regular critical care patient load and is using 15 of its 20 emergency room beds for non-emergency patients that have been admitted.

Ptacek says Jacksonville Memorial is in a critical situation, and the loss of staff due to this virus is straining its ability to provide services, just like District 117 who as of today has 26 staff absent, 11 of which are teachers.

During the call, Dr. Boston highlighted that a substantial number of his staff need schools to stay open so they can come to work and serve the community. Ptacek says while he was ready to place the importance of the District’s educational mission over the inconvenience of many working families, he says he cannot place the mission above the safety of the entire community.

As of today, the total student absences have decreased for the first time in a week, after hitting a new all-time high on Friday of 585. Today, 446 students were absent due to exclusion or isolation status. Ptacek says the latest updates from the Health Department shows now eight known transfers of the virus happened in District 117 schools last week, and they are waiting on results from several others.

Ptacek says as of right now, schools will remain open, even if some classes resemble more of a daycare than a school to keep the large number of students absent from falling further behind. However, over the next week, District 117 may need to further alter or cancel bus service due to a lack of available staff. He says families already affected by these measures have been contacted and any other will be contacted as soon as possible if more alterations are required.