Surging COVID leads New Trier High School to suspend intramurals, require post-break testing
Positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise within the New Trier High School community.
The latest data from the district shows 44 combined students and staffers are currently COVID-positive, a rise of 17 cases — or 63 percent — in seven days and 36 cases — or 450 percent — since Dec. 1.
While briefing the district’s board of education on Monday, Dec. 13, on the surge, Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally said the district is not considering learning changes but the COVID outbreak has led to additional mitigation measures.
After the district’s winter break, which runs from Dec. 18-Jan. 2, New Trier students will be required to complete a COVID-19 test the week of Jan. 3, Sally said, adding that the testing will occur throughout the week and conducted in students’ kinetic wellness period.
Sally said district families may opt out of the testing and still participate in on-site learning.
Additionally, all students who participate in winter sports and activities, such as intramurals, must submit to weekly COVID testing, of which there is no opting out, Sally said.
While officials reportedly found no direct link to on-campus transmission of the virus, they have noticed clusters of cases that share a connection, such as athletics or intramurals. Because of that, Sally said, the district postponed the popular intramural programs Night League (basketball) and Spike League (volleyball) until after winter break.
“Our goal is to sustain in-person learning and keep activities running all year,” he said. “The students are so appreciative to participate in all the activities.”
Board member Kimberly Alcantara asked administrators if performing-arts students were involved in the post-break testing. Sally answered no, because the district has not identified a COVID pattern within theatrical groups and clubs. He believes that is because in those activities students have more opportunity to spread out than in close-contact athletics, such as basketball.
Sally also announced — now that the FDA has approved a booster dose for individuals who are 16 years of age and older — the district will host COVID vaccine booster clinics for both students and staff in January. The district will reportedly also make efforts to encourage students and staff to receive a booster shot outside of school.
Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson estimated 1,000 slots would be open for the January booster clinic.
According to district data, 93 percent of New Trier staff members and 92 percent of its students are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine if they are in close contact. Currently just eight New Trier individuals are in quarantine.
The spike in cases at New Trier aligns with increased community transmission of the virus that has led to seasonal increases to the new-case rate (297.3 per 100,000 people — Dec. 13) and positivity (3.8% — Dec. 13) in New Trier Township.
In an effort to mitigate the current and future spread of COVID, Sally told the board the district has to increase its efforts to enforce the indoor mask mandate.
“We want to urge students to wear masks properly and comply when asked by a teacher (to do so),” he said. “The compliance level is the lowest it’s been all year. We all understand it and are all tired of all the rules we need to follow to keep the community healthy. We ask for extra effort especially with a few days before break.”
Board member Jean Hahn thanks the district’s teachers and other staffers who have managed all the moving parts, including mask enforcement, this school year.
“I want to acknowledge the tremendous effort of the entire New Trier staff but mostly the teachers and support staff who are working alongside students every day,” she said. “ … They did all this with the usual, customary professionalism and compassion … that makes New Trier the institution we value.”
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319