New Trier Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally opened a special meeting of the board of education with a succinct message.
“We are really ready to start a great year,” Sally said, prefacing an outline of the district’s operational and instructional plan on Wednesday, Aug. 11. The district’s top official focused on what he called a “more normal” school year.
New Trier students will be in-school learning five days a week, aligning the district with a previous mandate from the Illinois State Board of Education. Sally said the district will have “much more typical” classroom learning activities, extracurriculars and athletics, and student-life experiences.
“It is really exciting to be back to full in-person learning,” Sally said.
Officials noted that social distancing on district grounds will still be encouraged but it is now reduced from the previously required 6 feet to 3 feet, which will allow classrooms to return to full strength.
Students can move around both campuses and will no longer be required to check into spaces, Sally said.
“Our overall approach is really to keep students and staff healthy, both mentally and physically,” he said. “We know this transition is going to be difficult for many students and staff as we try to get back to normal. So we want to make sure we have the supports in place to help us get there.”
Sally said the district has “no plans” for hybrid learning to start the school year.
The administration’s plan offers the return of full-capacity, daily in-person learning, but also includes several mitigation measures aimed to curb the spread of COVID-19 within New Trier’s two campuses.
A key facet of the district’s mitigation strategy is access to COVID-19 testing. New Trier will provide free weekly testing via the University of Illinois’ Shield Program, according to information from the district.
That testing will take place during lunch periods on set days, officials say. The current pace is once a week but could increase to twice weekly depending on prevalence and community rates of COVID-19, officials said.
Chris Johnson, the district’s associate superintendent, said the Shield Program is the official state testing program.
Staff members who do not provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination are required to participate in the weekly testing, the district announced. The same goes for students participating in extracurriculars who do not offer the district proof of vaccination.
District officials are also encouraging all unvaccinated students to participate in the testing but are not requiring they do so.
Vaccinated students and staff will also have the option to participate in the weekly testing.
Approximately 90 percent of the high school’s community is vaccinated — 88 percent of students and 92 percent of staff members, according to Johnson.
“Our community has shown a commitment to their health and to the health of their colleagues and to other students,” he said. We’re glad that we’ve seen this type of participation in vaccinations.”
Last year, New Trier students who attended in-person learning at either campus were mandated to participate in the district’s saliva-screening program, as previously reported by The Record.
Officials also said at the meeting that the school will follow Gov. JB Pritzker’s recently announced mandate that requires all students in preschool through 12th grade to wear masks indoors to start the school year, regardless of their vaccination status.
Masks do not need to be worn outside of the district’s buildings, Sally said, noting the officials will also revisit masking protocols as “conditions and guidance changes.”
Administrators provided information on quarantines as the Illinois and Cook County Departments of Public Health issued guidance.
According to information included in a community email from New Trier principals Denise Dubravec and Paul Waechtler, vaccinated individuals who are a “non-household close contact of someone with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms.”
Officials say that the state has put into place several protocols that would reduce the 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated people who are determined close contacts of someone with COVID-19. The district recommended referencing the latest from the Illinois State Board of Education on quarantines.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, no matter their vaccination status, they will be required to stay home for at least 10 days and be fever-free for at least 24 hours and have symptoms improve, according to information presented at the meeting.
Citing a current evaluation of the district’s health services workflow, Sally said officials are working to determine if New Trier will continue the daily RUVNA screener.
Board members commended the administration on its operational and learning plan before unanimously voting to approve it.
“It’s thoughtful, considerate, fact- and experience-based and it reflects the needs of the students, staff and parents and it’s built on prior rigor and success we’ve had,” board member Brad McLane 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.