New Trier students will continue learning from home for another week, according to an emailed message from District 203 Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally.
In the email, Sally announced to parents on Friday, Oct. 23, that the district will continue its “pause” of hybrid instruction through the week of Oct. 26 because of the rise in COVID-19 rates in the region.
It will be the third week of mobile-only learning following the debut of in-person at the high school on Oct. 6.
Stage 4 of the district’s reopening ladder, which began on Oct. 6, included in-person learning for 25 percent of students. Just four days later, a surge in COVID-19 cases in both the township and the state halted the process, the district said.
Prior to the school year, the district laid out a plan to return to in-person learning that followed COVID-19 metrics that could affect the New Trier community. If the metrics were above a threshold, in-person learning could not continue.
“If you have been watching our COVID-19 Dashboard, you know that we have not seen the drop we had hoped for in the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 for both the Township and the area where our staff live,” Sally says in the email. “As a result, we must continue our pause in 25 percent hybrid learning and off-season athletic contact days for the week of October 26.”
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard currently reports a seven-day rolling average of 197.4 cases per 100,000 people for “staff zip codes” — or zip codes in which New Trier staff members live — as of Oct. 23. The district’s limit for that metric is 100, which has been eclipsed for 14 straight days.
The seven-day rolling average is 78.2 cases per 100,000 people in the New Trier Township. According to the district’s metrics, the threshold for hybrid learning is 70. That number, according to data from the Cook County Public Health Department, has surpassed the district’s threshold for 15 consecutive days; however, this number has significantly decreased from 129.2 cases as of Oct. 16.
The district has also seen a decrease in student and staff cases of COVID-19.
New Trier currently has eight active student cases of COVID-19, per its data. The district has zero positive cases among staff members. District officials have continually said that there has been no known community spread of the virus on campus.
Thirty-nine New Trier students and seven staff members are currently in quarantine.
The district’s current metrics are its currency “best proxy” for understanding the risk of COVID-19 coming into district buildings, Sally says.
In an effort to limit future in-person learning interruptions, the New Trier Township High School District 203 Board of Education approved earlier this month a plan to offer students and staff members weekly COVID-19 tests that return same-day results, as first reported by The Record.
Sally described the saliva screening program as a “more effective way to assess and mitigate” risk as compared to strictly adhering to the metrics.
“We are proud to be the first high school in our area to offer weekly screening,” he says. “If we have high participation from our students, we will be able to offer more consistent in-person instruction.”
District officials hope to begin the program no later than the week of Nov. 16, according to Sally.
Enrollment in the screening program is now required for any student participating in an on-campus athletic or extracurricular program, Sally says.
The district is offering the program to students who have enrolled in hybrid learning or on-campus extracurricular programs but families who have selected the 100 percent remote option should also sign up if they anticipate their students may enroll in an on-campus program in the near future, the email says.
“Please don’t delay in signing up for this program,” Sally says. “We need to have accurate participation numbers as quickly as possible so we can assemble screening kits and work with the lab on a screening schedule.”
In-season sports and extracurricular activities will continue to operate using strict safety protocols, Sallys said, adding that contact days for out-of-season sports will remain on hold.
The district will hold virtual parent-teacher conferences via Zoom on Nov. 11-13.
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.