UPDATED: More McHenry County schools return to remote learning after recommendation from health department, others to stick with hybrid model

Health department: County is seeing 'substantial' resurgence of COVID-19

At least seven McHenry County school districts have announced plans to return to or stick with remote learning as a result of an announcement from the health department that the county is seeing a “rapid increase” in COVID-19 cases.

The McHenry County Department of Health recommended Thursday that local school districts consider moving back to a remote learning model, stating that a number of the county’s school metrics indicated “substantial” community spread.

Huntley School District 158 joined five other area school districts – Woodstock School District 200, Cary School District 26, McHenry School District 15, Crystal Lake-based High School District 155 and Johnsburg School District 12 – that have announced they will heed the guidance, but almost just as many school districts have said they will stick with their hybrid programs.

District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe sent a message to families Thursday evening notifying them that the district’s younger students will transition back to remote learning beginning Monday and that all students will remain remote until at least Nov. 6.

“To have this shift become necessary at the end of the first week of having students in person under our elementary hybrid model is heartbreaking,” Rowe wrote.

District 155 announced Friday afternoon that it, too, will transition to remote learning starting Monday.

Prairie Ridge High School, one of the district’s four high schools, returned to remote learning while the local health department evaluated whether cases tied to the school constituted an outbreak.

The district will remain in a remote learning model until the metrics decrease and are stable enough to allow it to return to a hybrid learning model, according to its website.

As of Friday afternoon, the district reported on its COVID-19 dashboard that Prairie Ridge had 11 positive cases, Cary-Grove High School had five, Haber Oaks had one case and Crystal Lake South and Central high schools each had three.

District 12 Superintendent Dan Johnson announced Thursday that all students will return to remote learning effective Monday, and he gave parents the option to keep their students home from school Friday as well.

As of Oct. 19, the district has identified two confirmed cases among students and staff since the start of the school year, according to an update on the District 12 website.

District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan said in a statement Thursday that the district would once again postpone its switch to a hybrid learning model, pushing off the move for at least the next two weeks and telling parents it would update them again in a week.

District 200 has reported 30 confirmed cases among staff and students since Sept. 1, 10 of whom were reported from Oct. 12 to 18, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.

District 26 announced it will transition to a fully remote learning model next week.

District 15 will remain in remote learning until further notice, and no in-person instruction will be provided, including to students in specialized education programs, as of Friday, according to an announcement posted to the district’s website.

Prairie Grove School District 46 returned to fully remote learning Wednesday, before the health department’s announcement, because of an outbreak that began when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

District 46 hoped to resume its hybrid learning model Nov. 2, Superintendent John Bute said in a letter Tuesday. However, in response to the county’s guidance, the district will stay remote through Nov. 6, returning to hybrid learning Nov. 9 at the earliest, Bute said in a message to families

District 158 students scheduled for in-person learning Friday were allowed to attend as planned, according to the statement. The soonest that any students will return for hybrid learning is Nov. 9.

District 158 currently is reporting a total of 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the past 14 days, 10 cases among staff and nine among students, according to its data dashboard.

According to the McHenry County health department’s guidance, schools should be in the previous learning model for at least 14 days before moving to the next one in the reopening process.

District 158 cited health department guidance as the reason for the shift given that three of the county’s four main school metrics no longer meet the criteria for remaining in hybrid learning.

When the health department rolled out its guidance last month, it recommended that school districts consider a return to a learning model with less in-person instruction when two of the four metrics are met.

As of Thursday, the county reported an incidence rate of 25 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, well above the upper threshold of 14 cases. The county’s positivity rate now sits at 12.7%, the highest seven-day rolling average rate reported for McHenry County thus far.

The weekly count of new cases last was reported Oct. 4 at 313 and is “rapidly increasing,” according to the District 158 statement.

Harrison School District 36 is among four area districts that have said they will stick with their hybrid programs.

Richmond-Burton High School District 157 and Nippersink School District 2 announced Friday that they also will remain in a hybrid learning model. In the statement, Tom Lind, superintendent of the two districts, wrote that they have considered the recommendation from the health department but concluded that the data within their immediate area supports a safe continuation of hybrid learning.

The three McHenry County school districts that offered at least some in-person learning from the start of the school year – Marengo-Union Elementary School District 165, Marengo High School District 154 and Riley School District 18 – have yet to respond to the health department’s announcement on their websites or social media pages. Attempts to reach officials with the districts Friday were unsuccessful.

Parents of Nippersink Middle School students received a message from Principal Tim Molitor on Thursday notifying them that one or more individuals within the school’s community had tested positive for COVID-19.

Lind added that District 157 and District 2 parents who wish to opt out of hybrid learning in favor of remote learning may do so by contacting their student’s school.

Algonquin-based Community School District 300 also announced Thursday that it will keep students in school for in-person learning.

In the announcement, District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid acknowledged that guidance from the McHenry and Kane county health departments as well as ZIP code-specific COVID-19 data relevant to the District 300 community all indicate increased spread of the virus.

Despite this, Heid said, the district came to the decision not to move to remote learning because the local positivity rate is increasing, but not among school-age children.

He pointed, as an example, to the percentage of students age 9 and younger who have tested positive, saying it has remained “relatively unchanged” since September with a range of 5.6% on Sept. 6 to 5.25% as of Oct. 11.

Heid went on to say that the district has seen “fewer than five” incidents that could be considered outbreaks, adding that temporary closures would be considered in the event of larger or more abundant outbreaks.

District 300 has reported a total of 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff since Aug. 14, and 95 others reported being sick but never were tested. A total of 41 district students have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 14.

Harvard School District 50 Superintendent Corey Tafoya said Thursday that the district decided to continue with remote learning through the end of the semester to avoid the safety concerns and logistical challenges that come with reopening in this stage of the pandemic.

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 Superintendent Kathy Hinz sent out a message to parents saying the district also would remain in the hybrid learning model it started Oct 5.

“We are committed to continuing our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our schools by following health and safety protocols,” she said.

As of Friday, the number of new positive COVID-19 cases in the district was 12, according to its online dashboard.

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