Education

Harvard School District 50 canceled Thursday, Friday classes due to COVID-19, will resume Monday

Education officials across the county are bracing for a difficult next few weeks

Harvard School District 50 canceled its first days back from winter break this week, opting to keep classrooms shut Thursday and Friday because of COVID-19 cases among staff, Superintendent Corey Tafoya said.

District 50 is “confident” it can resume classes in person on Monday, he said.

But students should be prepared for things to look a little different as school employees may need to fill in for roles they usually don’t cover because of COVID-19-related absences. Some will be working outside their normal buildings.

“It’s that much of duct tape and baling wire that’s holding us together,” Tafoya said. “It’s all really in flux. We’re confident we can do Monday right now, but I can’t tell you who’s going to call on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and say they’re out.”

District 50 is not alone among McHenry County school districts impacted by the rise in COVID-19 cases. Earlier this week, Algonquin-based Community School District 300 canceled its originally scheduled Monday return to classes, resuming on Tuesday instead. Some school districts have been hit by high staff absences and have struggled to find enough substitutes.

“These two years have been very trying for school staff, as we know they have been for everyone, but this week has been a significant challenge. We expect these challenges to continue at least into next week,” Woodstock School District 200 spokesman Kevin Lyons said.

About 8% of District 200′s staff is in isolation or quarantine, as are a few hundred of its students, he said.

McHenry High School District 156 is in the middle of an unusually large number of staff absences this week, but it has been able to cover all of the classes affected, Superintendent Ryan McTague said through a spokeswoman.

“The ability to staff our school buildings continues to be the most significant factor in our ability to remain open for in-person instruction,” McTague said. “At this point, we feel confident that we will be able to address any staffing needs over the next few weeks.”

Officials for both Huntley School District 158 and Crystal Lake’s Community High School District 155 said their COVID-19 cases also are increasing this week, but their staffs so far have been able to handle the added strain and maintained in-person learning.

Impacts of a bus driver shortage worsened by the nationwide recent surge in COVID-19 cases was being felt Thursday afternoon by Prairie Grove School District 46.

Prairie Grove students could be more than an hour later than usual getting home Thursday afternoon because of several bus routes running late because of a dearth of available drivers, district officials said in a message sent to families Thursday.

The district saw a “significant” shortage of bus drivers and three routes – known as junior high bus route No. 1, route No. 5 and route No. 7 – could be between 45 and 60 minutes behind normal schedules, the district said in the note.

Elementary bus route No. 1, route No. 3, route No. 5 and route No. 7 were slated to be more than 60 minutes behind schedule, according to the message.

Parents who do not normally pick up their children in cars have the option to do so and were asked to put signs in their passenger windows with the students’ last names to expedite the pickup process.

The shortage is not expected to ease overnight for the district. Superintendent John Bute told a Chicago CBS station it was on the verge of having to temporarily close its doors to students for up to five days due to a high COVID-19 caseload among staff.

“We are anticipating a bus driver shortage for the next several days,” the Thursday message to District 46 families said. “Additional route delays or changes may be forthcoming.”

A lack of available substitute teachers this week has presented problems for Nippersink School District 2 and Richmond-Burton High School District 157, but Superintendent Tom Lind, who heads both systems, said they are making do.

“Like all schools we are dealing with a shortage in subs and the latest surge of Covid-19 only makes the situation more challenging,” Lind said in an email. “Both District 2 and District 157 teachers are filling in for their colleagues when and where they can. At this time we are maintaining our staffing through the use of the few subs we have and the hard work and dedication of our teachers who continue to fill in where they can.”

He and other school officials across the county have urged the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health to shorten isolation and quarantine protocols from 10 days to five for some people who have been exposed to or test positive for COVID-19 without experiencing symptoms.

The same policies have recently been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the McHenry County Department of Health for the general public, but they have not applied them to school students and staff.

“We need the ISBE and IDPH to adopt the CDC guidelines,” Lind said. “This would help us to maintain staffing and get healthy students back to school faster. It is my hope the IDPH will move to adopt the CDC recommendations in the very near future.”