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Homewood schools close for the week because of COVID-19 surge; Flossmoor schools, H-F High are open

District 153 is closing Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools this week as more staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Flossmoor District 161 will be open as scheduled. Students returned to school Tuesday, said Superintendent Dana Smith. He anticipates “staying in close contact with the community” to continue to check the COVID-19 case numbers.

Homewood-Flossmoor High School will be open on Wednesday. School spokeswoman Jodi Bryant said seven classroom teachers reported COVID-19 symptoms.

“We are truly sorry to have to throw this curveball at our families,” District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister said in his message to parents. “We want schools open, and our students in our classrooms! But at this point, we have no good options for doing that safely.”

The district asked the Cook County Department of Public Health for an “adaptive pause.” Only CCCDPH can grant approval to close schools for health reasons.

Superintendent Scott McAlister explained the “adaptive pause” to parents as a “response to high positivity rates and allowing us to continue with instruction. This is not a full return to remote learning for an indefinite period of time. At this time, students will be expected to return to school on Monday, Jan. 10, pending we have enough staff to be able to re-open.”

On Monday, District 153 conducted a teachers’ institute day. Tuesday was the first day students returned from the holiday break, and McAlister said each of the district’s three buildings opened with “large numbers of unfilled positions.”

SHIELD tests, saliva-based tests used to detect COVID-19, were available to staff and students on Monday. McAlister said the test found a positivity rate greater than 17% “and this has affected even more staff members. We simply do not have enough staff members to cover classes in a safe manner.”

Smith said District 161 will be conducting SHIELD testing this week in its buildings.

“The more information we can get, the better,” he said.

H-F did SHIELD testing on Tuesday. The numbers are expected on Thursday, Bryant said.

District 153 administers SHIELD testing at each building once a week. McAlister said testing will be given between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Churchill and on Thursday, Jan. 6, at Willow. Testing is for students who have been part of the SHIELD testing program this school year. Families are asked to walk their children in and everyone should be masked inside the building.

“We strongly encourage you to take advantage of this, as it will provide you peace of mind and it gives us a good idea of our overall positivity rates,” McAlister’s message says.

Free school lunches will be available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James Hart Sports Complex, 18211 Aberdeen St. at Door O.

Despite schools being closed, the district will host the scheduled vaccine event from 3 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, at James Hart Sports Complex at Door O. This program is open to all residents. Shots are free.

Staff will provide first and second doses of the COVID-19 shots, booster shots and pediatric doses. A parent must be present for children ages 5 to 17 to receive the shot.

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