As vaccine rollout continues and state guidance shifts to getting kids back in classrooms, many Kankakee County schools have taken steps toward normalcy and are looking to continue in that direction next year.
But positive cases in schools — though showing signs of tapering off — are not totally behind us yet.
Bradley Central put the brakes on in-person learning after seven cases, including six students and one staff member, emerged after spring break. The school is set to return to in-person learning May 3.
Since the switch, one more positive case has been reported from a Bradley Central student in addition to two students at Bradley West and one student and one staff member at Bradley East.
About 100 Bradley Central students were identified for quarantine because of close contact, compared to 20 at Bradley West and 13 at Bradley East; the latter two schools are still in person.
Bradley Central has an enrollment of 463 students, about 65 of whom still were remote learning before spring break.
Superintendent Scott Goselin said some students came to school not feeling well the first few days after spring break and immediately were sent home. Their families reported back they had positive test results.
Goselin said it seems because of the timing the individuals became infected during spring break rather than in the school setting. Unless they happened to be gathering together over break, it would seem the cases are unrelated.
Difficulties at Bradley Central stemmed from the fact that sixth- through eighth-grade students switch rooms between class periods.
“When someone does get sick, it’s affecting more of the kids than if it were at Bradley East or Bradley West, where it’s more contained to that particular classroom,” Goselin explained. “If you have a class of 20, close contacts may be five or six. When you’re a sixth- or seventh-grade student coming in sick, it’s like who were you in close contact with in first hour, second hour, third hour and so on.”
While the spike came as a surprise, as vaccinations are becoming more available in the community, Goselin said things have gone well this year overall.
“Once we get back on May 3, we are going to go forward until the end of the school year hopefully without doing something like this again,” he said.
Currently, the district plans to return to a full in-person schedule next school year and is awaiting guidance as to whether a remote learning option will be mandated.
The guidance already has relaxed social distancing requirements in schools to between 3 and 6 feet, giving schools more leeway to bring students back to classrooms.
In Bourbonnais Elementary School District, where full days and weeks of in-person learning have been back for a month, the total number of isolations (students removed from the in-person learning setting) was at 64 as of the middle of this week. There is one positive COVID-19 case in the system.
Superintendent Adam Ehrman said the number of isolations has fluctuated during the year; it was in the 80s when school began in August. In November, numbers skyrocketed and an adaptive pause at two schools was put in place. During the month of April, it’s been in the 40 to 50 range.
“We’re holding right around where we would expect to be,” he said. “That could always change, but right now, we are doing pretty well.”
Erhman also noted the district is monitoring trends in the data to inform decisions on in-person learning.
“With only between 30 and 40 school days left, right now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we look like we can make it there,” he said.
In Kankakee School District, the most recent COVID-19 numbers reported show that, since the district started tracking cases last May, the total number of positive cases had reached 109 adults and 55 students. Current quarantine numbers were four adults and 12 students across the district.
Superintendent Genevra Walters said aside from the district-wide shift to remote learning for a month around Thanksgiving in response to the rising county positivity rate, the district has not had to close any building or section because of cases of COVID-19.
There have been instances, though, with teams or clubs having to quarantine when a member contracted COVID-19 and it was difficult to identify who came into contact with that person.
The district no longer is limiting capacity to 50 in building spaces because of the shift in the state’s guidance; however, social distancing and face masks still are required.
Walters said the district has tried to stay ahead of the governor’s guidance and anticipate potential problems. Going forward, she feels confident in the plans the district has put into place after a year working through the pandemic.
“If the governor doesn’t tell us to close, we’re not going to close,” she said. “But we’re also not going to bring all of our kids in the building at the same time either because I don’t think we’re there yet.”
In Momence School District, there are three active student cases, including two at the high school and one at the junior high; 54 students are in quarantine. More than 1,000 students attend Momence schools.
Superintendent Shannon Anderson said he is “cautiously optimistic” the numbers will continue to be low and trend downward.
“We were really concerned about how the case count would look coming out of spring break,” he said. “We didn’t see a spike that we thought could have been a possibility, so we were pleased there. But we didn’t see zero cases either.”