Breaking: Over 300 under quarantine within Sycamore schools due to COVID-19 outbreak

District 427 grapples with substitute teacher shortage as classrooms contract virus

SYCAMORE – Superintendent Steve Wilder told the Sycamore school board Tuesday that there are currently 92 staff and 226 students quarantined for the novel coronavirus in the district almost a week after the return to the middle school and high school classroom was postponed until at least Nov. 30.

In the District 427 board meeting, Wilder presented information on a model for a COVID-19 dashboard that will go live soon on the district website to publicize COVID-19 cases linked to school buildings. Wilder said the dashboard could go live on the website Thursday or Friday. He said 28 staff members and 38 students are currently positive for the viral respiratory disease.

In addition, there are 36 staff and 138 students quarantined due to close contact with a positive case – defined as being within six feet of a positive case for 15 or more minutes.

Wilder said with more than five cases at the high school last week - there were 11 announced the day before students were scheduled to return – the district is considered in outbreak mode by Illinois Department of Public Health Guidelines, though it's not listed as such on the IDPH website yet as of Tuesday night.

However, Wilder also said it was his decision to postpone the return for middle and high school students, not the DeKalb County Health Department.

"It was not a mandated closure but I thought it was necessary," Wilder said. "The health department was supportive and thought it was a good decision. It was a decision I felt was the right thing to do."

Wilder said contact tracing is also a timely process. He said the health department is backed up with the current case surge from across the county (which since Friday has reported nearly 400 cases), leaving human resources at the district to conduct contact tracing.

Human Resources Director Nick Reineck said families have been great with cooperating with the district.

"It's not an exact science," Reineck said. "You have to get a handle on where folks have been and where might have gotten it, four, five, seven days after they may have been there."

Reineck added the high number of quarantines is because of the nature of COVID-19. In addition to the longer incubation compared to the flu, the symptoms are also tricky.

"In the past, if I got a sore throat I'd go to work," Reineck said. "If I got a headache I'd go to work. Those 92 quarantines, some of them could be because of one symptom."

The meeting opened with five speakers, four of which were adamant about a return to the classroom, although three of those were from the same family.

Wilder continuously stressed three main safety protocols for everyone to follow to help facilitate a return to the classroom for everyone – wear a mask, stay six feet apart and wash up.

"Our community needs to do their part if they want buildings to stay open," board member Eric Jones said after being presented with the rising COVID-19 numbers in the county.

While the middle and high school remain on remote learning, the elementary schools opened Wednesday, with Tuesday the fourth day the schools were open under the parallel plan.

North Elementary principal Thomas Franks said aside from a couple hiccups, things have gone well.

"I will say all that trepidation and anxiousness and concern was all for not," Franks said. "They were excited to be there and our staff was excited for them to be back. All the preparation and procedures were there for the right reason."

Franks said the two biggest hiccups are trying to get young kids to social distance and finding substitutes for sick or quarantined staff.

"I'd say the kids are really getting a hang for the new procedures," Franks said. "Social distancing is hard for them I will say. Especially at recess. Especially at arrival and dismissal. Six feet apart is hard for a kiddo."

He said the staff is working with the students and likes the progress that has been made in four days.

He called the substitute situation a pressing concern.

"I'll be very frank with you. The very first day we needed a sub, so I called my favorite people. The ones who sub loyally," Franks said. "I went through eight people before I got one maybe. We still had to find someone internally to sub in that role."

Eddie Carifio

Has been the sports editor in DeKalb since 2014.