School news

HERSCHER — Herscher School District is switching all of its schools to remote learning until Nov. 30 in light of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases reported among students and staff.

Superintendent Rich Decman said that over the past two weeks, the district has experienced three times as many positive cases as it has the entire school year.

Updated numbers weren’t immediately available Monday, but Decman said that as of Friday, there had been a total of 15 reported staff cases and 44 reported student cases.

Additional reports were called in over the weekend from parents at Bonfield Grade School and Limestone Middle School informing the district that the student or a family member had tested positive. At least seven more positive staff cases were also called in over the weekend.

As of Friday, 260 students and 44 faculty members throughout the district were already in quarantine due to close contact.

“[School nurses] thought we were going to have to quarantine at least another 50 to 100 kids as well as additional staff members,” Decman said. “We were close to a breaking point already, so that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Herscher High School students returned to classrooms about a week ago after a two-week remote shift in response to multiple connected cases within the school, which the Kankakee County Health Department deemed an outbreak.

Decman said he hoped the spread of the virus would stabilize after the high school students’ return, but clearly that hasn’t been the case.

“It’s very possible that [remote learning] will be extended, but we are going to see what happens in a week or so,” he said. “Right now we don’t have anybody quarantined beyond Nov 30; however, that obviously can change every single day.”

The district will be performing deep cleanings of each building during the remote shift as a precaution, Decman said.

While in-person school is held, buildings are being cleaned multiple times daily, in addition to the enforcement of social distancing, wearing face masks and hand washing.

Despite all the precautions, the virus is still finding its way into school systems.

“We firmly believe that most of this is being brought in from outside,” Decman said. “We just can’t control it. We don’t think it’s spreading in school.”

Decman said contact tracing shows most cases are originating from social gatherings or from family members in the same household.

With many families containing multiple students, the close contacts and therefore quarantine numbers increase exponentially.

“It’s become a nightmare,” Decman said.

The Herscher School Board approved a plan in October to increase in-person instructional hours from half days to full six-hour school days starting Jan. 5.

Decman said this is still the district’s goal, but its implementation will depend on COVID-19 numbers in the schools and community.

“Who knows if we’ll even be in person then?” he said. “Based upon the numbers we have now, it wouldn’t shock me if we were still in remote learning at that time.”

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Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.