WHEATON – Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 on Friday joined several neighboring districts in changing its back-to-school plans, announcing that grades 6-12 will start the school year with remote learning and elementary schools and Jefferson Early Childhood Center in modified in-person schedules to follow new state guidance.
The shift comes two days after the Illinois Department of Public Health released new more restrictive guidelines for students and staff with COVID-19 like symptoms and additional redefined close contact protocols.
Based on the need to adjust plans, the district is also recommending an August 26 start date for staff and a September 1 start date for students.
"As has been the trend from our State and local authorities, school districts are receiving new guidance at the same time as the public," Superintendent Jeff Schuler wrote in a message on the district website. "While joint guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Department of Public Health released on June 23 created a path and encouraged school districts to bring students back for in-person instruction, new guidelines released late on August 12 have led us to make the difficult decision to change our plans."
District 200 in July released its plans to have middle and high school students to return to school August 17 two days a week, separated by groups alphabetically, and be in e-learning the remainder of the week in a blended plan. The district later announced that it would need to delay the start of school to August 25 as it sorted out the complex details of returning to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Schuler in his letter Friday outlined specific new IDPH guidelines which "have made our current plans impossible to implement." Among them is that "close contact has been redefined and presents contact tracing challenges," that "new expectations for COVID-like symptoms presents challenges to staff at our buildings" and that "new cleaning guidance presents challenges to keep schools open."
"Close contact is now defined as anyone (with or without a face covering) who was within 6 feet of a confirmed case of COVID-19 (with or without a face covering), for at least 15 minutes throughout the course of a day. The period of close contact begins 2 calendar days before the onset of symptoms," Schuler wrote in his message.
"Prior to yesterday, the 15 minutes was any one instance on any one single day. This running 24-hour clock for any two days is an extremely difficult accumulation of time to account for and to contact trace in — especially when passing periods and lunch are taken into account. Figuring out how to account for this new running clock for anyone who a student or staff member may have come into close contact with will be very difficult and will likely lead to more students and staff needing to quarantine."
Schuler reiterated that e-learning plans this fall will look much different than in the spring with more structured, rigorous and synchronous schedules.
The district's e-learning Virtual Academy students at elementary and middle schools will continue as planned receiving their instruction from District 200 teachers, with high schoolers in the Virtual Academy now to receive their instruction from District 200 teachers and no longer on separate tracks.
"As I shared last Friday, the last few months have been incredibly trying on everyone," Schuler wrote. "The circumstances we find ourselves in are fraught with unpredictability and it is challenging for us all to operate under such conditions. I am fully confident that the Board of Education, Administration and Reopening Team have done everything we could to build a path to bringing all students back for in-person instruction, but we also stated that a guiding belief was that we need to be able to keep students in school. I am greatly saddened and frustrated that we must change our current plans."