OPRF High School [FILE]

Oak Park and River Forest High School students returned to classrooms this week as District 200 officials transition from full remote learning at students’ homes to hybrid learning, in which some students are getting limited in-person instruction in classrooms. 

The return to classrooms comes as school administrators at the elementary and high school levels in Oak Park are attempting to manage public expectations around school safety. 

The difficulty of the task has been compounded by the fact that schools across the country are now transitioning to updated guidance, different from recommendations that were in place for months. 

Since March, school districts have leaned on metrics tracking the spread of COVID-19 at the local, county and regional levels to determine when they’ll allow students back in classrooms. But for the last several weeks, top infectious disease experts at Harvard, Brown and other universities have recommended that school districts prioritize data specific to school populations gleaned from methods such as saliva screening to determine their hybrid learning plans. The experts have also explained that schools can continue to be open even during very high levels of community spread. 

Roughly a week before students were scheduled to return to classrooms, Karin Sullivan, D200’s communications director, conducted a YouTube interview with Dr. Stephen Weber, who is chief medical officer and vice president for clinical effectiveness at the University of Chicago, an OPRF parent, and member of D200’s Medical Advisory Team. 

“We’ve all been looking at everything from scientific literature to what we’ve seen in the press,” Weber said, adding that “circumstances have changed and our understanding has changed, too.” 

Weber emphasized the recommendations of national public health experts who say that schools can be open despite high levels of community spread if they implement effective virus mitigation strategies, such as mandatory masking, social distancing and saliva screening. 

“It really takes layers of prevention,” Weber said, adding that testing is just “another layer of security” and “the use of [saliva testing] is going to give us really valuable, closest-to-home information that, frankly, should be weighted the most.” 

District 200 administrators are utilizing SafeGuard, a Brookfield-based firm, to test every student who shows up for in-person learning. The tests are $11 each and can be conducted at students’ homes before being dispensed at various drop-off locations throughout the community and at the high school. 

“I wouldn’t be enthusiastic for my kids to be back in school or to advocate for the schools to open if the evidence didn’t say it can be done safely,” said Weber. 

You can watch the video interview with Weber here:

To read the updated guidance, visit: https://bit.ly/2YC31vb

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