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Pivot to Remote Learning

District 28 Pivots to Remote Learning at Thanksgiving Break

District 28 is joining the Northfield Township elementary districts in pivoting, temporarily, from in-person to remote learning following Thanksgiving Break. All District 28 students will resume instruction on Tuesday, December 1, and will remain with their current set of teachers. Monday, November 30, will be a remote learning planning day for all teachers as provided by the State of Illinois.

Superintendent Dr. Larry Hewitt detailed the reasons behind the decision to parents in an email sent Thursday morning, Nov. 12:

In making this decision to transition to remote learning, four issues emerged impacting the safe operations of in-person learning in the midst of this pandemic: rising transmission rates, rising absenteeism, recent recommendations from the Cook County Department of Public Health, and the upcoming holiday season. It is the coming together of all of these factors concurrently that provided the impetus for our decision.

Rising Transmission Rates
We are in the midst of another wave of infections throughout the country, and Northbrook is no exception. Transmission rates are increasing at a rapid rate in the State of Illinois, Cook County Region 10, and Northfield Township.

The Northfield Township COVID-19 Elementary School Local Public Health Dashboard shows three consecutive weeks of predominantly “red” coding, which is rated as “substantial community transmission.” Significantly, the “Weekly Cases per 100,000” category is considered substantial at 100. For the last three weeks, Region 10 has moved from 226 to 342 to 508 cases per 100,000. Likewise, Northfield Township has jumped from 180 to 305 to 447 cases per 100,000.

Rising Student and Staff Absences
In addition to township and regional data, we are experiencing absence rate increases due to the pandemic within our district: The average number of students and staff who are absent on a daily basis due to the presence of COVID-like symptom(s) and quarantining has risen for four consecutive weeks (10/5/20 – 11/14/20):
Average student absences per day: 22 to 32.5 to 41 to 50.8 to 66.5.
Average staff absences per day: 1.2 to 3 to 5.8 to 7.4 to 11.5.
When staff absences for all other reasons are included, the average absentee rate last week was 20 per day. It is now an ongoing challenge to cover classrooms adequately due to the number of substitutes required on a daily basis.

Holiday Travel Season
Between traveling, getting together with others outside of the immediate family, and college students arriving home, we have a significant number of households whose social bubbles will be expanding during the holiday season. Quarantines due to travel restrictions as well as close contacts with COVID-positive cases are projected to spike following both Thanksgiving and Winter breaks. As mentioned above, even a small number of staff quarantines pose a significant challenge to providing an adequately supervised learning environment.

Public Health Recommendations
The Cook County Department of Public Health recommendation for schools in our jurisdiction is to strongly consider remote learning given the presence of sustained community transmission. In following IDPH’s Adaptive Pause guidance, operating in-person learning or a hybrid model in the setting of substantial community transmission is considered high-risk.

Saliva Test
I have researched the possibility of implementing a saliva test after each holiday break as a way to help detect infections. At this time, I am not confident it would be logistically possible to implement or to receive results back quickly enough to be beneficial.

Temporary Transition to Remote Learning
All of these indicators in combination lead to the same conclusion for the elementary districts across the township of temporarily transitioning to remote learning after Thanksgiving and resuming in-person learning on January 19.

This transition will provide two natural quarantine periods for staff and students. By following this course of action, we increase the probability that staff and students will not bring the virus into the schools at the start of the second semester.

Preparing For Fully Remote Learning
This year’s professional development for staff, enhanced tech tools, and practicing with students in the classroom will make this period of remote learning look a lot different than it did in the spring. Students will follow their regular daily schedule which will include synchronous and asynchronous learning. Teachers and students are already using Seesaw, Google Classroom, Zoom, and other technology tools they’ll need for remote learning. Each student will leave school on November 20 with materials and devices to complete the semester.

While this was a difficult decision to make, we feel it will put us in a stronger position to kick off the second semester.

In partnership,

Larry A. Hewitt
Superintendent of Schools