Not a week after a portion of New Trier High School students returned to school, they have returned home.
Citing a surge of COVID-19 cases in both the township and the state, New Trier is “pausing” its hybrid instruction plan that calls for 25 percent in-person learning and returning to all remote learning for at least the remainder of this week, according to Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally in an email sent to parents and acquired by The Record.
Sally wrote in the email that several of the district’s metric thresholds were exceeded for multiple days.
“I want to emphasize that we are strongly committed to our in-person learning plans as evidenced by New Trier being one of the first public high schools back in person last week,” Sally says in the email. “I hope to be able to resume having 25% students on campus the week of October 19.”
New Trier’s back-to-school plan may have been interrupted because of recent social gatherings in the Township, Sally reported in the email, saying that most of the newly reported cases were traced back to a party and a series of weekend gatherings that many New Trier students, as well as students from other districts, attended.
“It has been challenging to conduct contact tracing from these events,” he says in the email. “I am disappointed that these events are a contributing factor to our rising numbers. I would like to reiterate in the strongest terms possible that all members of our New Trier community must abide by the common sense rules of social distancing, wearing a mask, no large gatherings, and hand washing if we want to have a chance to offer uninterrupted in-person learning.”
Stage 4 of the district’s reopening plan, which welcomed up to 25 percent of students learning in-person on campus, commenced Tuesday, Oct. 6. Since the school’s return to in-person learning, officials have reported a continual increase in positive cases.
New Trier has 11 active students cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, Oct. 13, according to its dashboard. The district reported five student cases as of its return to in-person learning on Oct. 6. The school also has one active case among staff members, per its data, up from zero at the start of the week.
One hundred and fifty-three students, approximately 3.8 percent of the school’s student population, are currently in quarantine — nearly triple the amount at the start of the week. Nineteen staff members, which totals 2.6 percent of the school’s staff, are also in quarantine.
Outside of the 11 positive cases, 18 New Trier students are showing symptoms of the virus but have either obtained a negative test or are seeking an alternative diagnosis, according to the school. Seven staff members are symptomatic but have also tested negative or are seeking a second diagnosis.
One hundred and thirty-five students are asymptomatic after close contact to a confirmed COVID-19 case, the district’s data says.
Despite the increase in cases, Sally assured parents that none of the positive cases are from school-based transmission.
New Trier Township zip codes have a seven-day rolling average of 88.4 new cases new cases per 100,000 people, Sally says in the email to parents, adding that Monday, Oct. 12, was the fourth consecutive day that number has exceeded the district’s threshold of 70.
The seven-day rolling average metric for “staff zip codes” also was exceed for a fourth consecutive day, according to Sally.
The district’s hope is to return to 25 percent in-person learning on Tuesday, Oct. 20, according to Sally.
All athletic contact days for out-of-season sports scheduled for this week were also canceled, the email says.
Sally said the State SAT for seniors on Wednesday, Oct. 14, as well as the PSAT/NMSQT for juniors on Saturday, Oct. 17, will take place as planned at the Winnetka campus under the strict safety protocols.
A final decision on a return to partial in-person learning will be made Sunday, Oct. 18, Sally said. If students do return, the tentative schedule would be: Letters F-K: Oct. 20, 21; Letters R-Z: Oct. 22, 23; Letters A-E: October 27, 28; Letters L-Q: October 29, 30.
“We were excited to have some students back on campus for in-person instruction last week,” Sally says in the email. “Our processes and procedures worked well, and we will be making adjustments for future hybrid classes based on feedback from students, teachers, staff, and parents.
“We are hopeful that this pause will be a brief one, and that by working together as a community we can get our students back in school for in-person instruction as soon as we can.”
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.