LAKE FOREST, IL — After the Lake Forest Community High School District 115 board last week rejected the Lake County Health Department's recommendation to transition to fully remote learning to slow the spread of the coronavirus, teachers' representatives demanded the district disclose the metrics the board is using to determine whether school buildings should be opened or closed.
The District 115 board called an emergency meeting Thursday night, convening remotely via video-teleconferencing software two days after county public health officials called for a shift to virtual learning in response to "substantial" community spread of the coronavirus.
Instead, the district is implementing a partial "adaptive pause" where freshmen and sophomores continue to attend class on campus through LFHS's e-hybrid learning schedule. Juniors and seniors saw their class schedules shifted to fully remote until further notice. Administrators said they would reevaluate every week. Another special meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
Board President David Lane said board members and administrators would be watching COVID-19 statistics closely.
"The reality is we might go into a full adaptive pause. We hope not to do it, but if the numbers continue to be troubling, we might have to do it, and we want to make sure you all are aware of this," Lane said. "One of the reasons why we didn't want to move into a rushed or hazardous quick cessation of what we were planning is we wanted to make sure that all the parents that know that you might have to arrange for child care."
The positivity rate in Region 9, made up of Lake and McHenry counties, rose to 8.4 percent Saturday, the most recent day for which data is available from the state. The two-county region is on track to soon join Chicago and every other collar county with new restrictions forbidding indoor service at bars and restaurants and capping gatherings at 25 people. Such COVID-19 resurgence mitigation measures do not apply to schools.
Superintendent Mike Simeck said last week in a message to elementary and high school families that district officials took the health department's guidance seriously.
"To date, our risk mitigation efforts have been extremely effective. We applaud our staff and students for their cooperation which has resulted in zero in-building transmissions and zero classroom quarantines to date," Simeck said. "That said, we continue to have grave concerns over community behavior that ultimately affects our ability to keep our students in school."
Unlike other north suburban public school districts, Lake Forest High School does not provide a COVID-19 dashboard showing how many students and staff are quarantined, the number of positive cases or the incident rate in staff ZIP codes.
Instead, the district offers generic county-level data on the positivity rate that it describes as a "readiness dashboard." This week, all of its categories are red, indicating in-person instruction is not safe.
Becca Schwartz, the president of the Lake Forest Education Association, the local bargaining unit representing about 160 certified staff in District 115, said in a statement after the Oct. 22 emergency board meeting that teachers had told the administrative team they expected the district would listen to the Lake County Health Department's recommendations.
“The board chose to ignore our administration and the professionals. Instead, they held a last-minute meeting and without discussing the topic in an open forum, our board president decided to keep the building open," Schawartz said in a statement.
“We are calling for transparency. Our students, parents and teachers deserve to know what metrics the district is using to determine if school buildings should be open or closed. We are now asking for the metrics in writing,” she added. “If they’re not going to follow the recommendation of medical professionals, then we’d like to know what exactly their protocol is. Studies and data show high schools can be super spreader locations when the positivity rate is high in the community. It’s science.”