Woodstock School District 200 will remain in remote learning next week because McHenry County did not meet all four metrics laid out by the McHenry County Department of Health, its superintendent said.
The district originally was supposed to switch to a hybrid learning model with some in-person learning Monday, but in a news release sent Friday afternoon, Superintendent Mike Moan said the district’s plan had said that would only happen if all four of the McHenry County health department’s weekly metrics were met.
The announcement came as county officials warned other restrictions aimed at gatherings and businesses could take effect if improvements aren’t seen.
The decision on whether to move from remote learning to a hybrid model is entirely up to each district, said Lindsey Salvatelli, the spokeswoman for the McHenry County health department.
The McHenry County health department had released a framework for school districts to use when making those decisions.
The framework set parameters for the county’s COVID-19 incidence rate and test positivity rate and had also recommended looking at whether hospital admissions tied to COVID-19 and the number of new cases are increasing or decreasing.
Schools are advised to continue remote instruction if the incidence rate exceeds 14 per 100,000 per day, test positivity exceeds 8%, and both hospitalizations and the number of new cases are increasing.
The McHenry County health department reported Friday the incidence rate as 16, the positivity rate as 7.4%. The 7-day rolling average for hospitalization rates was four as of Oct. 13, the same as the day before and one fewer than the day before that. The weekly number of new cases as of Oct. 4 was 313, up from 207 the week before.
“These significant increases caused the metric to fall short of the goal to move to hybrid instruction,” Moan said. “We know many will be disappointed with this outcome, but we’ve committed to relying on the expertise of our local health officials to interpret our community’s COVID-19 data, which we cannot control.”
Moan said that he understands how frustrating this is for families.
This has been a very difficult time for parents, for students and for our entire community,” he said. “It’s frustrating for our staff who have worked tremendously hard planning for this transition and for various scenarios since March.”
Moan said the district will check the metrics Oct. 23, and if all four metrics are positive, the district will begin its return to school plan Oct. 26.
“When the metrics say it is appropriate to transition to hybrid learning, we’ll be ready to do so,” Moan said.
The health department remained in contact with superintendents to ensure they are aware of what’s happening with the metrics, Salvatelli said.
“We push out the data for them to help them make their decisions,” Salvatelli said. “They can refer to the data specific to the full metrics. We keep that data for them,and then they use that [and] apply it to what’s going on within their individual communities within their individual schools.”
At a Committee of the Whole meeting for the McHenry County Board, County Board member Michael Skala, R-Huntley, said the question of whether to go back to school has been a very hot topic for a lot of residents in the county.
He said he’s gotten some phone calls from parents claiming that the county health department is the reason that their children are not allowed to go to school, which Skala said he knows is not correct.
At the meeting, Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson said the metrics are one piece of how they are consulting, guiding and working with the schools.
“There may be something individually happening at a school that may drive their decision to remain in hybrid or remain in virtual, and so we are available to them to support and help them make these decisions,” she said. “It still ultimately is their decision to make but we’re working alongside them.”
The health department is encouraging schools to make a gradual shift and transition to hybrid learning from virtual learning before going to a full in-person learning model.
“If we see any measures increasing, that’s where we’re going to be working with them on potential mitigation,” Adamson said.
Huntley School District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe also pointed the metrics created by the McHenry County health department at a school board meeting Thursday.
Students in sixth through 12th grade are set to go to a hybrid model starting Nov. 2, where they’ll be split into four groups, attending two full days, every other week unless they choose the full remote model.
Those in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade are set to start a hybrid learning model Monday.
During the meeting, Rowe acknowledged that the area wasn’t seeing the greatest trends right now as far as metrics.
“We’re watching that very closely,” he said.
Like most school districts, District 158 started off fully remote, but began considering shifts to hybrid models as regional and local metrics, as well as state guidance and county-wide consensus, stabilized, Rowe said.
“Ultimately, we’re more confident in our ability to implement our public health guidelines and ensure that we can keep our students and staff safe when they’re in the building with a high degree of fidelity,” Rowe said.
Rowe said that while some metrics had ventured beyond recommended threshold, the county remains within the 5 to 8% positivity rate range laid out by the McHenry County health department and hospital admissions are either stable or decreasing.
He said the weekly case count also has been increasing, but said the number of new cases among children and teenagers are not rising.
District officials will be watching to see if anything changes, in particular with the case count and incidence rate.
“I don’t anticipate that that’s going to cause us enough of a problem that we would be changing our plan for Monday,” he said. “We still expect to be full speed ahead on Monday as we’ll need longer than that for a change to be necessary.”