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SHIELD to start this week in D161 after short delay; administrators seek short-term help

SHIELD testing is to start in Flossmoor School District 161 this week, following a third party vendor delay that backed up the originally planned Sept. 9 rollout.

Superintendent Dana Smith presented the board of education with an updated schedule on Monday, Sept. 13, during a special meeting. SHIELD uses regular saliva testing to catch asymptomatic cases sooner in an attempt to prevent outbreaks in schools.

“We know the process will be slow the first few weeks, but we certainly expect those times to decrease as we move forward,” Smith said.

He noted the district had 10 active cases as of Sept. 13, but only one of those was school-linked. Smith also noted that, of the criteria used to assess risk associated with COVID-19 spread in the district, four out of five categories were in the “minimal” range, with one in the “substantial” category. That compares to last week, when one was low and four were in the substantial column.

“We are trending in the right direction,” Smith said. “We still expect to see some sort of bump from Labor Day, as people made their travel plans, but that has not shown itself yet.”

Smith also suggested the hiring of a short-term, full-time employee to assist with parent phone calls, data management and quarantine coordination with an increase in student quarantines and an anticipated increase in more COVID-19-positive students being identified through SHIELD testing.

“Right now, it is just a typhoon,” Smith said. “The volume is incredible.”

Smith noted Kathy Knawa, the district’s nurse, has been working through weekends, calling families for contact tracing. Smith said he anticipates some of the volume will taper off after the district starts catching cases sooner through SHIELD testing. But the positivity rate also could go up in the short term as the district identifies asymptomatic cases, he said.

The position would cost the district between $25,000 and $29,000, Smith said.

Other Business
● The school board voted 5-0 as part of its consent agenda to approve its Fiscal Year 2022 Budget. The budget has an operating surplus of $64,000 but an overall deficit of $671,595 with construction. Board President Carolyn Griggs and member Misha Blackman were absent. Prior to approval, the board held a public budget hearing, but no members of the public spoke on the issue.
● The school board also approved a closed captioning agreement with Rev as part of its consent agenda. The district is to pay $1.50 per minute for closed captioning of posted videos, focusing on its meetings.
● The school board, as part of its consent agenda, accepted a donation of school supplies valued at $7,729.06 from Allan DeCastro to help students in need at Serena Hills Elementary School. DeCastro also donated embroidered logo face masks valued at $6,800 to the school.
● The district voted 5-0 to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Flossmoor to make way for work for Douglas Avenue Drainage Improvements project. The improvement project is expected to encroach several feet onto district property at Parker Junior High School but not impact operations in a major way.
● The school board voted 5-0 to approve an additional driver and three paraprofessionals for the district minibuses to help the district adapt to transportation issues and other concerns created by them. The positions are expected to cost the district between $25,000 and $29,000 each for the school year.
● District 161 is considering working with the Precision HR Custodial Staffing Agency to hire three full-time and two part-time custodians at an hourly rate of $24.50 after struggling to hire custodians outright through job postings since March.

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