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Parker Jr. High shifts to remote learning after ‘large number’ of students, staff test positive for COVID-19

Parker Junior High School shifted to remote learning starting Thursday, Dec. 16, after Flossmoor School District 161 said a “large number” of students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in results from this week’s SHIELD testing.

Superintendent Dana Smith notified parents on Wednesday, Dec. 15, in a letter that noted District 161 has been in contact with the Cook County Department of Public Health, which verified the accuracy of the test results directly with SHIELD.

No specific numbers directly related to the latest round of SHIELD testing at Parker were immediately provided by the district. The last COVID-19 update posted to the district website, as of press time, was dated Dec. 14, with 37 active cases listed for Parker.

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But Smith wrote that based on the number of students and staff impacted by positive results and quarantines, the district received approval to place the school on remote learning through the end of the second quarter. Following winter break, a return to in-person learning is expected Wednesday, Jan. 5.

Amy Kent, communications manager for District 161, confirmed that shift to remote includes all students and staff at Parker. At this time, the change only impacts Parker, but the district noted the Illinois Department of Public Health is looking into additional research and testing in the area.

“Currently, all of our elementary schools will remain in-person,” Kent wrote in an email to the Chronicle.

Kent added that SHIELD — a regular testing program designed to catch asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 before outbreaks occur — only indicates positive or negative results. It does not contain further data about whether or not a particular variant is responsible for the cases.

Public health officials “strongly recommend” an immediate COVID-19 test and then another 5-7 days from Dec. 15 for anyone, regardless of vaccination status, who did not participate in SHIELD testing at Parker on Tuesday, Dec. 14. It is also recommended for family members of those with connections to the school.

Community-wide SHIELD testing will be available for any community member at Parker from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, and 2-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20.

Parker students are expected to follow their current daily schedule through virtual classes. Students and parents are receiving additional remote learning information from teachers, according to Smith. All extracurricular activities at Parker are canceled through Dec. 22.

Smith promised in the letter to provide any additional information on the cause and spread of the outbreak as it becomes available.

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