As August 13, the first day our freshmen will be in the building draws near, I know everyone is eagerly awaiting more details on the COVID-19 mitigations we will have in place. As you have likely seen over the past two weeks, the rules and regulations are shifting rapidly as the pandemic continues to evolve, and we are not out of the woods yet.
Our top priority is to ensure that we provide a safe, supportive, and academically engaging educational experience for our students. As a result, we’re continuing to work closely with the Oak Park Public Health Department, our medical advisory team, and our district’s reopening steering committee to make sure we are taking the appropriate measures to keep our students, faculty, and staff healthy.
Let me first say, this is a lengthy communication. I appreciate you staying with it, as it contains several critical pieces of information.
1. Vaccination Clinic
As I noted a little over a week ago, vaccination is the number one recommendation from the CDC, the most recent data we have shows that 57% of Oak Park residents and just under 62% of River Forest residents are fully vaccinated. (In my previous communication I stated percentages as being for only vaccine-eligible residents. These figures are for ALL residents. My apologies for the error.) Vaccination is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19, and helps avoid severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.
To make getting vaccinated as easy as possible, in partnership with the health department, we will hold an on-site vaccination clinic on Aug. 9, 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. The clinic will be open to all.
- Students from Districts 90, 97, and 200 who are age 12 and older, staff members from all three districts, and community members are encouraged to participate.
- We’ll be offering the Pfizer vaccine--the only one approved for youth--and second vaccination appointments will be automatically scheduled, and will also be administered at the high school.
- If we need more spaces than our three-hour time allotment allows, we will open more slots to accommodate all who are interested, even if we need to add an additional day.
- Students ages 12 through 17 will need a signed parent’s consent to receive the vaccine. The consent form was emailed to all parents. Please download, print, and bring it with you. Children under 14 must also be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
To pre-register for the vaccination clinic, click here.
2. Proof of Vaccination Status
We are requesting that all students and staff who are vaccinated submit proof of vaccination. I want to be clear that submitting this information is completely voluntary and it will be protected in the same way as any other medical information we have on file.
Instructions for submitting your proof of vaccination via Skyward are posted here. If you need assistance with this process, Family Access is available Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at FamilyAccess@oprfhs.org or 708-434-3737 (Choose Option 1).
3. Social Distancing
Social distancing is not feasible in all instances. The CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health do encourage three feet of distance. But they also make it very clear that if space constraints are an issue, getting all students back in the classroom must be prioritized over social distancing. That is indeed the case for us: We simply do not have room to require maximum social distancing with all students on site.
4. Universal Masking
Yesterday, Gov. Pritzker issued a mask mandate for all P-12 schools in Illinois. All staff, students, and visitors will be required to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
The only time a mask will not be required is while someone is actively eating or drinking during breakfast or lunch. With the South Cafeteria under construction until second semester, our primary locations for meal service will be the North Cafeteria and 1 West Gym. Social distancing will be difficult in these spaces, which we know may make some students uncomfortable. So we’re also identifying alternative spaces where students can eat with more space around them. More information on these locations will be forthcoming.
5. Saliva Testing
Saliva testing through SHIELD Illinois is free for all public schools in the state, and can greatly help us to identify any positive cases as well as to limit the effects of quarantining. As a result, we have opted to partner with SHIELD Illinois to provide weekly testing to all students, faculty, and staff on site during the school day. We will no longer use collection drop boxes. Due to the high demand on SHIELD, we aren’t certain of the date saliva testing will start. Again, we will get additional information out to you as soon as we can. However, please know a few key points:
- Saliva testing will be optional for all students, faculty, and staff, although anyone who is unvaccinated is strongly encouraged to participate.
- No action is needed at this point; however, those who wish to opt out will need to complete a SHIELD opt-out form that we will make available as soon as we have a start date confirmed with SHIELD.
Although participating in saliva testing and submitting proof of vaccination is optional, there is an incentive. Anyone with proof of vaccination on file will not be required to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19 and are exhibiting no symptoms. Those with no proof will be considered unvaccinated and must quarantine for:
- 14 days, as required by the Oak Park Department of Public Health
- 10 days, with on-site saliva testing on days 11-14. This option is only available to those already participating in weekly on-site saliva testing, once available.
Per the Illinois State Board of Education, we are not able to offer a hybrid learning option this year. Therefore, unvaccinated teachers and other staff members who cannot work from home will have to use their sick days to quarantine. Students who must quarantine will receive five hours of remote tutoring from a quarantine sub, but they will not be able to remotely attend classes. Please note that quarantine days will not count toward the 12-day absence limit for each semester.
7. Daily Health Certification Self-Screener
We will no longer be using the daily health certification self-screener. Screeners and temperature taking at the door are not on the CDC’s list of recommended mitigations, and quite honestly, we found them to be of limited value in identifying potential COVID cases last year.
However, I want to stress the importance of staying home if you have any signs of illness. Even if you’re vaccinated and think you have just a cold, you could be infected with COVID. Please keep everyone safe and stay home until you are well.
8. Additional Safety Measures
We will continue to use the safety measures implemented during Semester 2 Hybrid Learning. These include upgrades to our air ventilation and filtration systems and enhanced procedures for daily cleaning and sanitizing.
9. Absence Policy
Attending classes when healthy is critical for students’ success during any school year, but absolutely essential as we come off of the remote and hybrid experiences from last year.
We also know that it is equally important that students who are ill stay home. As a result, we will not be including any student who is sick in the 12 day absence allotment.
In his announcement yesterday, Gov. Pritzker also included an update to the Illinois Department of Public Health All-Sports Policy that requires masks for student-athletes, coaches, officials, game personnel, and fans for all indoor fall IHSA athletic events, including practices. Swimmers and divers do not have to wear masks while competing, but must adhere at all other times. The mask requirement also applies to any winter or spring IHSA sports that may be conducting open gyms, general conditioning, or weightlifting indoors this fall.
There are no restrictions to scheduling or spectator limitations at this time, nor are there any changes to the IHSA calendar for any sports. However, each school district may opt for additional mitigation as is appropriate for their community. When our athletes and spectators visit these campuses, we expect that they follow the host school rules.
In closing, I want to stress once again the importance of getting vaccinated. Oak Park and River Forest High School is committed to partnering with our families to protect the health and safety of all who are on our campus. Please join us in this effort. And as always, please feel free to reach out if you have any thoughts or questions.
Greg Johnson, PhD