On behalf of Wilmette Public Schools administration and the district’s Metrics Reopening Advisory Team, Superintendent Dr. Kari Cremascoli recommended to the board of education continued remote learning through the holidays.
The board, however, wants to wait and see.
Board members unanimously voted against Cremascoli’s recommendation during a special meeting Monday, Nov. 30, and instead approved a motion that extends remote learning a second week — through Dec. 11 — for students in grades 3-8.
Wilmette District 39 schools are on an adaptive pause this week, Nov. 30-Dec. 4.
Under the motion approved Monday night, students in grades K-2 and “students with comprehensive special educational needs” will learn in person starting Dec. 7.
Several board members said their “hope” is that the week of Dec. 14 is an in-person learning week and they will decide on that week during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, Dec. 7.
Citing the increasing challenges of operating on-site instruction, Cremascoli said she brought the recommendation to the board “with a heavy heart,” as the district is having increasing trouble staffing the schools.
She attributed those challenges to a growing number of quarantines, absences due to illness from and exposure to COVID-19, limited substitute staff availability and more.
“As I’ve said throughout, this is no fault of anyone; everyone has put forward the very best effort,” she said, “and yet we find ourselves in a predicament where we have to really weigh the predictability and certainty that can be offered to our students with the challenges of continuing with in-person instruction with the uncertainty that we face in this very real pandemic that we’re living through.”
Dr. Heather Glowacki, assistant superintendent for personnel, updated the board on discussions the advisory team had during its meeting held the morning of Nov. 30.
She outlined to the board a harsh reality that is facing the district.
Glowacki said the ability to safely and effectively staff the district’s nine schools is “fragile at best and is quite honestly at a point of real concern.” She added that while remaining in-person for instruction is what’s ideal for students and teachers, the district “simply can’t effectively and predictably staff in-person instruction for all of our students.”
While board members acknowledged the difficulties facing the administration, several said their belief is that circumstances related to COVID-19 could improve in the next week and the need to decide on the week of Dec. 14 was not yet necessary.
Board member Jon Cesaretti applauded the administration’s admirable standards for maintaining in-person instruction but questioned if that is needed.
“Is there room for compromise here?” he asked. “Do we need to have the best; could we have good enough?”
Cremascoli cautioned that while operating in-person learning the week of Dec. 14 is possible, it would likely involve a significant amount of change. Administrators think that at least some pods and learning cohorts will have to move to remote learning because of staff members exposed to COVID-19.
“The inconsistencies are what worry us,” she said, “and the effectiveness of instructing and planning for that kind of a learning environment. Knowing that it’s going to be as fragile and as difficult as it is, (this) just doesn’t seem like the right decision to make in the best interest of our students and education.”
More than 30 members of the public submitted comments to the board that were read aloud during the public-comment portion of the meeting. Only one of those comments supported extending remote learning, while close to three dozens asked the board to keep District 39 schools open.
District 39 announced a one-week adaptive pause on Monday, Nov. 16, for the week of Nov. 30. District officials were hopeful the pause would only last one week. The board’s vote on Nov. 30 ensures that it will last for at least another week.
PCR testing will be available to all District 39 students on Dec. 3 at ‘bulk-testing’ event
Access to medical COVID-19 testing for Wilmette Public Schools students is going into full force this week.
A “bulk testing” event will be held Thursday, Dec. 3, where all students can participate in testing organized by the district.
Students who are neither symptomatic nor have been exposed can be tested for $85 per test, officials said at the meeting. Testing for these students is only available on bulk testing days.
District 39 sent an email to parents on Nov. 30 with additional information and details on how to register.
“It simply is another option if someone prefers to access testing in that way rather than go to CVS or their health-care provider or one of the many other testing sites where we know there are some longer lines and access challenges,” Cremascoli said.
At a meeting earlier in November, the board approved expanded access to its testing programs to students. Under the approved contract, household members of district staff also have access to the testing.
D39 launched a testing-access partnership for employees in October. The partnership with Ambry Genetics provides all staff members with access to PCR testing, as previously reported by The Record.
The test costs families $20 for students who are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.
Cremascoli also updated the board on the administration’s ongoing efforts related to a COVID-19 screening program. She said officials believe that right now Safeguard testing, the program that New Trier High School has in place, is the best option.
Dr. Campbell, the physician who spearheaded the program, will speak to the board on Monday, Dec. 7. Board members will be asked to review a contract to pilot that and then potentially launch in January, Cremascoli said.
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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.