For the first time in more than 12 months, in-person student attendance at New Trier High School is set to exceed 50 percent capacity.
On the heels of what administrators called a “record” week for student attendance, New Trier officials are expecting a further increase in on-campus learners for the start of the school’s fourth quarter.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally told the board of education during its Monday, March 15 meeting that officials believe the minimum attendance level at the Northfield campus will be 55 percent and at the Winnetka campus 45 percent.
Sally added that he projects both numbers will be higher.
To determine more precise attendance figures for the fourth quarter — which begins when New Trier returns from spring break in early April — the district sent out a survey to families asking whether they prefer remote learning, biweekly in-person attendance or in-person learning four times a week.
“We know that we have a number of students who are remote and this provides them an opportunity to come into school and it allows us to have a sense for how many of our students would want to come in for two days or four days,” Sally said.
So far, the district has received 115 new requests for four-day in-person learning at the Northfield campus, which represents approximately 12 percent of the student population at that building, Sally said.
For the Winnetka campus, 175 new requests are in, representing 6 percent of the student population, since the survey was sent on Friday, March 12.
The final day for survey responses is Thursday, March 18.
“We’re trying to get as much information as quickly as we can so that we can look at what the issues are on each campus,” he said.
Updated guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health state that social distancing can be reduced in classrooms to fewer than six feet to accommodate in-person learning, officials said at the meeting.
To accommodate all of the students hoping to return to campus, Sally said many classrooms at the Northfield campus will need a reduction in social distancing.
The space reduction at Winnetka will be smaller, but still needed in some rooms, because of generally larger spaces, he said.
With the minimized social distancing, however, comes the possibility of more quarantines.
The state’s guidance still defines “close contact” to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 as “someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.”
Because 6 feet of social distancing has been maintained, New Trier reportedly has not had to quarantine any students strictly because of classroom situations. But reducing that distance will increase the number of student quarantines if there is a classroom interaction with someone who has the virus.
The district will also need to determine its capacity ability because 6 feet of social distancing must still be maintained during lunch. Sally said officials are looking at lunch options and making sure New Trier has the spaces and supervisions for it.
While the prospect of more students returning to school is a cause for optimism, Sally prefaced his presentation by stressing the importance of students and families remaining committed to health and safety procedures.
Additionally, New Trier officials are asking all students that travel over spring break to be tested before they return to Cook County, a policy in line with the county’s travel guidance, officials said.
A testing site will be available at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette for families looking to obtain a COVID-19 test.
In the open to his presentation, Sally marked one year since the pandemic changed the school and community’s landscape.
“I want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that we just marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic’s disruption of our school and community,” he said. “I want to commend the board, my administrative team, our staff, our students and our families for working together to provide the best education possible to our students.
“It wasn’t easy. We did not all agree on every decision we made throughout this time. But it was very important we had robust discussions around the issues that we faced and I appreciated that very much.”
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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.