Several members of the Jacksonville community are concerned about schools remaining opening while record numbers of COVID cases continue to roll in statewide.
District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek believes that schools will remain in-person despite the grim projections outside of schools. He says trends are going in the right direction at Jacksonville schools currently: “It is our second day of slightly encouraging data that our total number of students quarantines and isolations causes dropped for the second day in a row. We had a high last friday of 339 students. We’ve dropped down to 292, so while it’s still quite a few students, we were really concerned that the trend had been spiking so seriously upward that if it had continued we’d be well above right around 400 students at this point in time, but it hasn’t. It’s dropped down to 292. Our total number of students with positive cases is down to 8. It was at a high of 15 on Monday, so while that’s never positive that we have students with positive cases, [it’s] encouraging towards keeping schools open.”
Ptacek says numbers are also going down among staff: “Our total staff impacted today for the first time in over a week did drop from the previous day. It had slowed gains yesterday, but today it actually dropped. It went from 48 total staff to 46, and the actual isolations and positive cases not just the quarantines dropped from 17 to 13 and we did reduce the number of total teachers out from 19 to 17 and the total staff out as I said went from 48 to 46, so we are actually really encouraged at this point that were going to be able to remain in-person through Thanksgiving break.”
Ptacek says he has remained in close contact with the local teacher’s union and he’s encouraged by the ongoing dialogue in the ever changing environment of educating during the pandemic: “What I get out of our meetings is they understand this question that I ask and that is since we know that sending kids home is going to cause cognitive, emotional, and social damage, why would we send them home when we have no indication at all that our school is serving as a source to spread the virus? To me, it makes absolutely no sense to take an action that we know is damaging kids when we have collected data. We have thoroughly analyzed all the cases of the virus that are within our schools and there is no evidence that the virus is being spread at the schools. We are the only place that we absolutely mandate masks and absolutely mandate social distancing: seating charts so we can contact trace. We have the best capacity to control the virus spread than any other location in town. I’m gonna argue that we’re the safest place for kids to be outside of their home is in school, and when you add in the importance of social development, emotional development, intellectual development, I think it would be absolutely irresponsible, without being able to prove the schools is a source of contamination, to close the school.”
Ptacek says he is adamant that schools in Jacksonville remain open until the statistics and the data contradict that they should not. He says he has received a lot of positive feedback from the community on the daily COVID-19 tracker that’s on the school district’s website. He says that he thinks it helps reinforce the idea of the safety of students as they continue in-person learning despite the world outside of school having difficulty containing the virus