Conley Elementary School in Algonquin sees McHenry County’s first school outbreak this year

The Huntley School District 158 school has seen 15 students, one staff member test positive this year

All students in one classroom at Conley Elementary School in Algonquin have been quarantined after several students tested positive for COVID-19 in McHenry County’s first school outbreak of the school year.

Fifteen students at Conley have tested positive for the virus, along with one staff member, according to Huntley School District 158′s COVID-19 dashboard.

“The outbreak was identified over the weekend and officially declared on Monday morning after confirming information by [McHenry County Department of Health] and the school health official,” McHenry County Department of Health department spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said. “Based on the number of cases in the classroom and the identified risk factors that were identified with the initial investigation, the classroom has been closed and all students and staff are being isolated or quarantined.”

District 158 spokeswoman Alex LeMoine did not say how many of Conley’s 16 total cases were linked to the outbreak in one classroom. She said the health department and Illinois Department of Public Health defines an outbreak as two or more cases linked through school exposure.

Conley has students in third through fifth grade, and the health department confirmed the outbreak happened in a classroom where none of the students were old enough to be vaccinated.

District administrators or the school nurse contacted the parents all impacted students directly, LeMoine said. The district also notified parents of all the school’s students about the situation.

No District 158 students are hospitalized with COVID-19, LeMoine said.

Salvatelli said the outbreak appears to be caused by improper masking and social distancing.

“Mitigation interventions were not being strictly adhered to – mask wearing and spacing. Therefore, transmission is high, and we are still monitoring for other cases of those exposed in this classroom and under quarantine. [The] case count associated with this outbreak can continue to increase,” Salvatelli said.

Masking indoors is required at District 158 schools, LeMoine said. She said the district continues to push for mitigations to be followed in light of the outbreak.

“We recognize that this mitigation strategy is important to keep our students safe and healthy, as well as keep them learning in the classroom. We have communicated our masking policies to our staff, students and families and continue to enforce proper mask wearing in our buildings to the greatest degree possible,” LeMoine said.

The district’s mask policy was the focus of intense debate among District 158 parents over the summer, before Gov JB Pritzker announced a statewide mandates requiring masks in schools regardless of vaccination status.

About 100 people attended a July school board meeting in the district to ask for an optional mask policy. Several parents and students spoke out against masks and sometimes vaccines. Many parents had signs with pictures of their child explaining how they don’t like wearing masks in schools.

Conley is located on the same campus as Heineman Middle School and Mackeben Elementary School. Neither school is a part of the outbreak.

Heineman had four cases among students while Mackeben had two cases among students as of Wednesday, according to the district.

Across all District 158 schools, 50 cases of COVID-19 have been identified as of Wednesday. Three of the 48 cases are among staff members. The district also had 374 students and four staff members in quarantine or isolation as of Wednesday.

No other outbreaks have been identified in the district, LeMoine said.

More information on the source of the outbreak, as well as how many of the 14 people with COVID-19 could be made available on Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The state updates how many schools by county have an outbreak each Friday and includes an estimate of the number of people involved in the outbreak as well as where the outbreak happened, such as a classroom or through sports.

Two schools in Kane County, including John Shields Elementary School in Sugar Grove, are among 26 Illinois schools with an outbreak as of Friday.

John Shields is taking additional steps to address their outbreak, including requiring students to wear masks outdoors at bus stops and at recess when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained, Kaneland School District 302 administrators said in a letter to parents Monday.

The state only requires masking at school while inside and on the bus.

John Shields has seen 10 cases among students and staff since school began, according to the district’s dashboard. The outbreak had fewer than five cases among both students and staff tied to it, according to IDPH.

While no students in District 158 have been hospitalized, Algonquin-based Community School District 300 had two students in the hospital with the virus last week, Superintendent Susan Harkin told board of education members.

At the time, they were among 48 students to test positive. The total number of students to test positive has since risen to 81 students, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.

Ben Szalinski

Ben Szalinski

Ben reports on local news in Harvard, Marengo, Huntley and Lake in the Hills along with the McHenry County Board. He graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield Public Affairs Reporting program in 2021. Ben is originally from Mundelein and enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with friends and family.