Return-to-school update

Hello Huskie Families,

I hope you’re all safe and healthy, and finding at least some time to rest and rejuvenate from the challenges this past year has brought all of us. In just a little more than three weeks, we’ll be thankfully welcoming all students back to the building for the first time since March 2020. To say we’re excited to see our hallways and classrooms full of Huskies again is an understatement. 

In order to safely do so, we are working closely with our local medical advisory team, the Oak Park Department of Public Health, and collaborating with our district’s steering committee, as well as other school districts in our area, including districts 90 and 97.  

As I referenced last week, I am writing to get you this in-process update on where we are with our return to school plans. 

We are working diligently to determine the best path forward. As a result we are not rushing decisions on several important matters including how we will approach mitigations referenced in our state guidance such as mask wearing and saliva screening. We do know, however, that mitigations can be limited for those who are vaccinated compared to those who are not vaccinated.

And that is the purpose of this message. 

Current data from the Cook County Department of Public Health and Oak Park Department of Public Health show that 55% of eligible Oak Park residents and 61% of eligible River Forest residents are fully vaccinated. This data is similar to that of many surrounding communities. While the CCDPH does not report out the percentage of high school aged students who are vaccinated, according to my conversations with Oak Park Public Health, 35% of Oak Park residents aged 15-18 are fully vaccinated. 

There are several reasons for our communities to come together to increase these percentages. For starters, according to the CDC, “vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at low risk of symptomatic or severe infection. A growing body of evidence suggests that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to have an asymptomatic infection or transmit COVID-19 to others compared to people who are not fully vaccinated.”

Additionally, students (and staff members) who have been vaccinated and are exposed to COVID-19, will not need to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic. Currently, Oak Park Public Health is requiring 14 days of quarantine for unvaccinated persons who are exposed to the virus, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. We want to do all we can to limit lost instructional time this year, and so the benefits of vaccinations to keep your students in our classrooms cannot be understated. 

Guidelines from the state board of education make it clear that we will not have hybrid learning this school year for students who are at home. And while we are working to provide remote support structures to help students who are quarantined, zooming into a class from home will not be an option.   

We want to do everything we can to make sure students can avoid quarantine and attend class every day. As a result, we are working on a process for students and staff to voluntarily submit proof of vaccination so that they don’t have to quarantine if they’re exposed to COVID-19. Again, we’ll share more details about our process as soon as we have them available. 

Vaccination is free and widely available. Here are some resources with more information:

Ways to get vaccinated, from the Village of Oak Park. 

Ways to get vaccinated, from the Village of River Forest.

Frequently asked questions about young people and vaccination from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

We know there are many more questions that need answers, including: How will we handle mask wearing? How are we handling lunch periods? How are we handling athletics and field trips and visitors in the buildings? We are working through all of that. For now, we thought it was important to share this important information. As always, please feel free to email me with any thoughts or questions. 

Thanks everyone - have a great day - and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone in our building on August 16th!

Best regards, 

Greg Johnson, PhD