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In-school tests find COVID cases at District 153

Students in three classrooms at Churchill School are learning remotely after positive cases of the COVID-19 virus were found in the weekly SHIELD testing the week of Dec. 5.

The news was shared by Superintendent Scott McAlister at the Dec. 13 school board meeting.

Churchill has 70 students in quarantine after 11 tested positive; Willow School has 33 students in quarantine after three students tested positive; James Hart School has 47 students quarantining after 10 students tested positive.

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“I just want to emphasize the challenge to our teachers and our administrators. Every day, every week they’re spending an inordinate amount of time contact tracing and calling families and setting up remote instruction. It’s really, really challenging,” McAlister said, as he reminded families that a free vaccine clinic is being held from 2 to 6 p.m. on Friday at James Hart School, 18220 Morgan Ave., Homewood. Vaccines, booster shots and juvenile doses of the vaccine will be provided for anyone in the community.

“We know vaccinations are not fool proof, but we also have to follow the advice of our medical professionals which is: the single best way to get through this is through vaccination,” McAlister added.

District 153 school nurse Jessica Kors said students testing positive must quarantine in isolation for 10 days.

Putting other students in quarantine “is for an individual (student) who you want to prevent from getting sick. Those are the close contacts,” she explained. State guidance is for students to quarantine for 10 days.

Three students in a classroom with COVID is enough to force a quarantine for all students because “they’re spending a lot of time together,” the nurse explained. She said District 153 considers whether the students are epidemiologically linked using contact tracing.

The district started schoolwide SHIELD testing in September. The majority of the district’s 1,900 students are taking part in the weekly SHIELD testing, a saliva-based test that can detect COVID-19 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people.

“I had a week where I didn’t have any positives,” Kors said. “Since last month it’s gradually going up and last week was the highest we’ve had. What we see is echoing what the country and the state are seeing.”

McAlister said several parents have asked if the district can return to remote learning after the holiday break, but he stressed that the district “cannot unilaterally make the decision to go to remote instruction.” That decision rests with the Cook County Department of Public Health.

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