Local News

Sterling school superintendent expresses confidence in COVID-19 mitigations

Sauk Valley youth vaccination levels trail state percentage by wide margin

Sterling Public Schools expects in-person learning will continue in the spring semester, which started Wednesday.

Expressing confidence in existing COVID-19 mitigations, including on-site SHIELD testing, Superintendent Tad Everett told parents it seems unlikely the entire district would be subject to a district-wide adaptive pause.

“We may face temporary classroom, grade-level, or even building adaptive pauses,” he wrote in a Jan. 5 message to start the spring semester, “but unless there is a governmental requirement, we no longer have to be concerned with going back to full remote status.”

Everett cited the layered approach to mitigation strategies the district has in place and the experience the district has had in staying open in the last 18 months.

“Everything we have done over the last year and a half has been focused on this priority,” Everett wrote.

Diligence with masking, outbreak protocols and experience in identifying and excluding COVID-19 cases and their close contacts has kept school in session amid the surge. He also said daily communication with the Whiteside County Health Department has been crucial.

The district offers weekly routine testing for students. The district did enact a new testing schedule for students and staff. It will be 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

In addition, members of the community can avail themselves of SHIELD testing 9 to 10 a.m. Monday and Wednesday and from 9 to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. All testing takes place at Door 1 at Sterling High School.

Dixon Public Schools

Dixon Public Schools Superintendent Margo Empen said protocols for positive cases would remain the same as the previous semester, but was prepared to issue a revision on additional guidance.

“If we need to move to remote learning, the turnaround will be quick,” Empen wrote in a message to parents. “Please get your plans in place now to ensure a smooth transition for you and your students.”

Empen said the district would remain vigilant in its layered mitigations.

“While I understand the community has different views on how COVID should be handled, I am extremely concerned about not having the requisite staff available to continue in-person learning if we let down our guard at all.”

She said the district is maintaining or decreasing its case prevalence compared to the start of the break even though transmission rates are high across the region.

Reagan Middle School went on adaptive pause for the two days prior to the holiday break. Students were on a remote learning schedule for Dec. 20 and 21.

The district held free rapid testing for staff and students last week and also had a vaccination clinic on Friday.

Other schools

Grades 6 through 12 in the Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico School District will be on remote learning until Tuesday, Jan. 18 after 27 students tested positive for COVID-19 and 78 total students were absent for virus-related reasons. The district’s elementary schools will continue with in-person instruction. The Erie-Prophetstown co-op girls and boys basketball teams are on pause.

Freeport School District went on an adaptive pause on Jan. 7.

Vaccination levels

The school-age youth in the Sauk Valley region continue to fall below the state percentage in vaccination rates, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In Illinois, 21.15% of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated. Lee County, which ranks 33rd among counties, is at 10.43%. Bureau is at 10.27%, Ogle at 10.24%, Whiteside at 8.64% and Carroll at 6.45%.

The state figure for students ages 12 to 17 is 57.17%. Ogle County, which ranks 24th, is at 41.57%. Lee is at 41.14%, Bureau at 39.96%, Whiteside at 38.87% and Carroll at 21.48%.

According to the IDPH, which updated its data on Friday, no new outbreaks took place in the Sauk Valley region.

However, the IDPH was still tracking the six outbreaks at Ogle County schools going back to mid- and late-December. They were at Byron Middle School, Byron High School, Forreston School District, the Chana Education Center, Oregon Elementary and Polo High School.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for Saukvalley.com and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.