The McHenry County Department of Health is in the process establishing countywide metrics that will help school districts decide on their plans for the rest of the semester and whether it will include some form of in-person learning.

The agency is in the final stages of determining these metrics and should be able to release them publicly sometime next week, department spokesperson Lindsey Salvatelli said.

“We are working with the school superintendents on this,” she said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most McHenry County public schools went remote for the first part of this school year. Only three districts, Riley School District 18 in Marengo, Marengo Union Elementary School District 165 and Marengo High School District 154, still gave parents in-person and remote learning options for the upcoming school year.

Private schools like Immanuel Lutheran School in Crystal Lake are offering in-person learning. Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock had started its year fully in person but recently switched to a hybrid model after two students tested positive for coronavirus.

Most public school districts in McHenry County initially planned on having students follow a hybrid learning model.

For most hybrid plans, students are split in two groups where each group is physically in school for part of the week, while the other group is remote. They would then switch for the other part of the week. 

Many of the area districts unveiled this model during summer board meetings but switched to a fully remote plan, with many saying they would revisit the decision in September or October. Superintendents cited a rising positivity rate and the number of cases in McHenry and Lake counties, as well as changing and at times conflicting information on how to reopen, as reasons for this switch.

Having a countywide consensus on meaningful health metrics is a game-changer, said Huntley District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe during the school board meeting Thursday where he announced that early childhood through fifth grade students will have a hybrid schedule starting Oct.19.

Though conversations with the McHenry County Department of Health have been ongoing, it is only very recently that things have started to take shape to the point where the district feels confident using these metrics as a key part of decision making, district spokesman Dan Armstrong said.

Area superintendents have been having regular calls with McHenry County Department of Health officials, sometimes with people from other county agencies as well, Armstrong said.

“As much as we can, we need to act as a county,” he said.

Along with the local data, guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health have solidified more since the summer, and districts have had some time to weigh them, Armstrong said.

Kevin Lyons, Woodstock District 200's spokesperson, said the district's administration appreciates the county-wide metrics as a tool for the board to choose its next steps going forward.

Like other school districts, District 200 has gone through a couple of different plans on reopening since spring and this planning continues to happen.

Woodstock decided to keep remote learning until Oct.16, which is the end of their quarter. Its next school board meetings are this upcoming Tuesday and Oct. 6.

“School boards are made up of usually pretty intelligent people from the community and a lot of professionals,” Lyons said. “But what they're not is epidemiologists. So they need that kind of guidance to make decisions.”

McHenry Community High School District 156 officials plan to use the finalized metrics as one factor in the development of a timeline for returning students to school buildings in a hybrid learning format, Superintendent Ryan McTague said in a statement.

Even with the countywide metrics, individual district plans will vary as each district has its own unique circumstances with enrollment, class sizes, class needs and building layouts, Armstrong. 

Still, he said, the metrics are reassuring, as black-and-white data has previously been hard to come by.

“Everything has been so unknown, understandably, at every level,” Armstrong said. ”So this is very important, to get this level of concrete, statistical information in place to guide that decision-making.”

For more local news, visit Northwest Herald at https://www.nwherald.com.

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