- School District U-46
Weekly Staff Message from Superintendent Sanders
We all share a common interest in best serving our more than 37,000 pre-K-12 students. I cannot stand before you and say we are meeting the academic or social/emotional needs of our students in distance learning. I’d be lying. I could point to multiple data points that hurt my heart: Course failures, the results from our recent MAP assessments which demonstrate next to no growth across all grade levels and across all student groups, student attendance and student engagement. We must, and will, get students back into classrooms.
On July 20, 2020, I said I would not accept the loss of life as a result of reopening because we lacked fully developed safety plans. I committed to a slower process for bringing back students and staff. I committed to bringing back elementary students for the second quarter, and middle and high school students for the second semester. We are keeping our plans to serve students in a hybrid model beginning Jan. 12 for elementary and Jan. 19 for secondary, while still accommodating those families who choose to keep their student in distance learning.
My team and I have worked collaboratively with teachers, union leadership, administrators, support staff, members of the community, and our local health departments to develop the plans we are following for our return. Specifically with the Elgin Teachers Association, we have engaged in discussions throughout this pandemic. We have shared data, answered questions, collaborated on professional development, ensured teacher voice in the review of proposed safety procedures, and worked to address health and safety issues brought by ETA leadership. This does not mean that I, or my team, or the Board, can accommodate every request made by every employee group; however, it does mean that we have been at the table discussing any issue that has arisen since last March.
I remain confident in our ability to return and keep students and staff safe. Safety has been a topic I have addressed many times in my weekly updates, as well as a constant focus of our team as we have developed our processes and procedures. However, despite all our work, the Board and I have received more than 30 emails from teachers with concerns. This week I’m going to attempt to address those concerns in the major thematic areas:
1. Self-Certification - The self-certification is a daily commitment to ourselves and to our families to monitor our symptoms and to stay home when ill. It was never intended for exclusionary purposes, which by law is not allowed unless we actually determine a child or staff member has symptoms or has tested positive. Our process to verify if a student or staff has self-certified is very well laid out.
Every morning the principal and nurse at a site will receive a staff or student certification report 60 minutes, then 30 minutes before the start of the school day. If a student was not self certified by their guardian, then the principal or the nurse will first follow up with the family to verify no symptoms exist. If a teacher notes that a student is displaying symptoms, the suspicion should be reported to a school administrator so that the student can be evaluated by the school nurse in private (not in the classroom and not in the hallway). Note that all schools have established quarantine rooms to hold students who are ill and may be waiting for a guardian to pick them up.
All staff members entering a building must self-certify one hour prior to the start of their school day. This allows us time to ensure classroom/position coverage and follow-up as needed. Site administrators will follow up if an employee does not. Repeated failure of an employee to self-certify will result in progressive disciplinary action.
Last month, I noted that according to the Centers for Disease Control, studies show that 16 percent of infected students will not show symptoms. Thus, our best protection against COVID-19 continues to be wearing a mask, ensuring social distance, and washing hands.
We will ensure certifications occur for students and for staff who are in our buildings. Administration will be monitoring this data, and we will be sharing the data with our union leaders. Further, we are examining options for middle and high schools where the self-certification can be tied to a student’s identification. We will be sharing those additional details as soon as they are finalized.
2. Wearing Masks/PPE - Masks must be worn by any person inside our buildings and while waiting for, or riding on, our school buses. I have said before that we will not tolerate violations of this, by adults or by students. In a past weekly message I gave you permission to call out any adult that is not wearing a mask, or to contact me via Let’s Talk and I will follow up with that employee. Repeated instances will result in appropriate disciplinary action.
Similarly, I have said the Student Code of Conduct applies to students who do not wear a mask, with the exception of some of our students with special needs where there is medical documentation (appropriate staff members will know these unique and rare instances). Correct the behavior yourself first. If a student does not comply, then write a behavior referral.
3. Contact Tracing - We have been very transparent with our data of open, closed, and positive cases. Our amazing Health Services team has been contact tracing cases since March. I approved in October the hiring of additional resources to expedite the contact tracing process and these new employees have completed the required contact tracing course. We also work very closely with our local health departments. Please review our process I linked as it should answer your questions.
If you have an interest, on Monday evening Mr. Heiderscheidt and Mr. Judge will be presenting our safety update to the Board. That update will address our contact tracing process. Further note on that site our communication protocols, including our notification flowchart, for when a case is identified at a site.
One of the keys for self-certification is for employees who enter buildings to individually use their FOB upon entering any building. That electronic access is our primary document for determining who was inside a building if there is a case of COVID-19 identified. In other words, do not hold doors open for one another (even though it seems nice). You need to ensure you use your FOB upon entering.
4. COVID-19 Testing - The Governor’s Office, State Board of Education, and the Illinois Department of Public Health has asked us to be a pilot district for BinaxNOW, a fast-acting antigen test. This has required a lot of work on the part of Health Services, considering the size of U-46 as it requires a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) waiver from the state (sounds complex and it is). Once we receive the waiver, then we will be in line for thousands of test kits that we will use to screen for COVID-19 when a student or staff members exhibit symptoms. More information on testing will be shared if and when we are successful in gaining the CLIA waiver.
5. Vaccinations - Teachers and school-based staff are considered group “1B,” in line to be vaccinated after group “1A” which are healthcare workers and long-term care workers and residents. There are 3.2 million Illinoisans in Group 1B. We work regularly with our local health departments on all of these topics, and I assure you we are working to ensure you have access to vaccines as quickly as possible.
Our nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists are in Group 1A and have been contacted by Health Services on how to access the vaccines. If you are in one of these groups and have not received information, please contact HealthServices@u-46.org.
6. FFCRA Benefits - As you may know, the COVID-19 leave benefits created by the federal government in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on December 31, 2020. The FFCRA benefits included 10 additional sick leave days for COVID-19 quarantine/isolation and a related partially-paid child care leave.
Although FFCRA has expired, the District will extend the sick leave benefits described below until March 31, 2021. They are:
- Employees who are ordered to quarantine or isolate by Health Services due to a potential exposure to COVID-19 at work will continue to have the entire period of the quarantine paid without use of sick days. Employees who are in positions that would allow them to work remotely will continue to work.
- Employees who are ordered to quarantine or isolate due to a potential exposure to COVID-19 away from work will continue to be eligible for 10 COVID sick leave days total over the school year. Employees who are out more than 10 days will be able to use their regular sick days after the COVID days are used. If you have used any COVID days, you will only be eligible for the balance of the remaining days. Employees who are in positions that would allow them to work remotely will continue to work.
7. Logistics and Procedures you may have questions about:
a. Cleaning - Plant Operations and Business Services departments have created detailed cleaning procedures for different scenarios at schools, including the use of additional cleaning resources. Each night the rooms that were used by staff and students will receive disinfection.
b. Buses - Our Transportation Department has ensured additional cleaning measures on school buses.
c. Classroom Cleaning Supplies - Additional cleaning supplies are present in all classrooms with hand-sanitizer.
d. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - We have ample supplies and a process for replenishment is established at each school site.
e. Signs and floor Markings - Floor stickers and signage has been added to all our buildings to remind students and staff of all safety measures.
f. Pandemic Safety Procedures for Administrators - Extensive procedures have been developed through collaborative employee and administrator committees. They are posted so all employees have access and can review if they have questions about the administrative procedures. The public website for guardians, students and the community mirror those procedures which are located as follows:
1) Public Web Site - School Communications During COVID-19 - Health and Safety - Link
2) Staff Access Only - COVID-19 Reporting - Suspected and Confirmed Cases - Link
3) Staff Access Only - COVID-19 Safety and Guidance for Staff - Link
4) Staff Access Only - COVID-19 Administrative Procedures and Resources - Link
8. Health Department Guidance - My decisions regarding remaining in distance learning, or returning to hybrid, are guided by regular meetings with our county health departments, our surveillance of COVID-19 cases by zip code, local hospital data on available beds, our attendance rates, and our ability to contact trace.
I have referred to the decision as being something like “snow days on steroids.” That is not to be flippant. State data may not mirror our county data. Our county data may not mirror our zip code data. At this point in time, we have not seen a significant spike in cases since my decision to return to distance learning in November when we had a spike after Halloween.
I meet weekly with both the Kane and DuPage county health departments, twice per week with Jeffrey Judge, Health Services Coordinator, and I am in daily contact with John Heiderscheidt who is our Director of School Safety and Culture. If we need to return to distance learning due to community spread, we will. If we need to close individual buildings, we will. But we will do so based on our local data and circumstances in collaboration with our health departments.
9. Equity in Workloads - I empathize with all teachers...all educational support professionals and all administrators. All of our workloads have increased and/or changed regardless of role. That said, we developed our instructional models collaboratively and in a manner to best serve our students.
I know I just shared a lot of information. Thank you for taking the time to read it as I did try to ensure I addressed, to the best of my ability, your concerns.
I so appreciate the commitment you all demonstrate, every day, to the success of our learners. It does not go unnoticed by me, the Board, or our communities.
All my best,