PLAINFIELD, IL — Students in Plainfield School District 202 began their spring semester with in-person learning Monday. But amid heightened COVID-19 cases and worries, tensions are higher than usual among students' parents and guardians.
District officials are asking families for "patience, cooperation and support" as they navigate a return to in-person class during a surge of omicron and delta cases.
"We all know that COVID numbers are elevated in Will or Kendall County and throughout Illinois, however, we continue to believe we can mitigate issues at school if we all cooperatively work together," Superintendent of Schools Lane Abrell wrote in a letter to the community Tuesday.
Health guidelines in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include isolation for positive cases and a push for communities to get vaccinated.
At schools, students and staff who test positive for the virus are required to isolate for 10 days — guidance that remains the same despite the CDC's recent recommendation to shorten isolation time to five days for the general public. Abrell said school districts may receive clarification this week on how the new isolation time impacts schools, but until then, protocols remain the same as last semester.
"Anger about the regulations we must follow is both misdirected and counterproductive," he wrote. "Please be respectful to our support staff, teachers, principals, and nurses as they continue to navigate protocols for safety of students/staff, constant IDPH guidance changes and updates, and changing COVID metrics."
District officials are also asking parents to keep their children home if they happen to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. Abrell said the intention is to maintain in-person attendance while keeping schooling and extracurricular activities as "close to normal for students as possible."
Although there is no current vaccine mandate in place for students at District 202 — and staff can opt-out by participating in weekly testing instead — Abrell continued to encourage the community to get vaccinated.
"The best way to remain in person and avoid exclusion is to have a high percentage of eligible students as well as teachers and staff get fully vaccinated and boosted," he wrote. "I understand and respect everyone’s right to choose what is best for you or your student. Still, the regulations we need to follow encourage vaccination and boosters for students and staff when eligible."
The superintendent also informed parents that the district may choose to use snow or remote learning days given the current shortages of staff, substitute teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals and transportation employees. Tom Hernandez, director of community relations, did not have specific numbers to provide regarding staff shortages but said staffing is "alright" as of Tuesday afternoon.
"That's going to be a major, major consideration whether we go back to remote for a short period, as other districts around have done," he told Patch. "Staffing is the issue. Right now, we are okay, but we are constantly monitoring the numbers and that might change at any moment or day."
Looking ahead to the rest of the semester, Abrell noted it will "probably be a bumpy ride."
"While the number of COVID cases and resulting increased staffing shortages are of great concern, we have been able to begin and hope to continue second semester in person," he wrote. "We will continue to communicate as we carefully monitor COVID cases and related metrics in our buildings."