District 97 administration building (File)

Two Oak Park District 97 schools have switched to remote learning after returning from winter break this week, citing staff absences as the main reason for the change. With school set to start Jan. 4, students from Longfellow Elementary and Percy Julian Middle schools are asked to shift to e-learning until Jan. 5, according to an email announcement sent to district families over the weekend. 

Parents and guardians can expect an update from the district by mid-week on whether Longfellow and Julian students can return to school in-person after Jan. 5, district spokeswoman Amanda Siegfried said. 

Siegfried said the district is keeping tabs on the number of school employees who have called in absent or notified respective school principals that they may be unable to return to school during the week of Jan. 4 because of COVID-related reasons. Those employees range from classroom teachers to food service workers and custodial staff, and at this point, Longfellow and Julian schools were the outliers within the district, Siegfried said. 

In an email, the district told families it anticipates “staffing shortages may continue over the next several weeks” because of the rise in COVID-19 cases “and associated increase in staff illness and absences.” 

While the district’s goal is to continue in-person instruction, it may move schools over to online learning if it is “unable to provide appropriate staffing.” 

The district is currently seeking substitute teachers and teaching assistants and encouraging those who are qualified to apply at www.op97.org/hr/employment. District 97 officials are also asking eligible students to get vaccinated; test for COVID-19, if applicable; and monitor closely for symptoms. A full list of the symptoms can be viewed on the district website or through the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) site at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html.

Meanwhile, River Forest School District 90 and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 have welcomed students back into their buildings for in-person instruction. 

District 90 spokeswoman Dawne Simmons told Wednesday Journal all schools are open but the district has experienced some teacher absences. The district, however, is doing “OK right now” and was able to bring in substitute teachers, said Simmons. 

Karin Sullivan, spokeswoman for District 200, said an email was also sent to families Jan. 3 to remind students to be vigilant about masking protocols and COVID-19 testing. Students are encouraged to wear KN95 or surgical masks, which are also available onsite for those who need them. 

While saliva testing for COVID-19 is voluntary for students, those who are in-season athletes are required to test once a week, according to the email. All OPRF students can also continue to eat lunch off-campus, another safety measure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  

Quarantine policies for staff and students who either test positive for Covid or were identified as close contacts remain the same, despite the recent change by the CDC, District 200 officials told families in the email. 

While the CDC shortened the isolation period for the general public, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) maintains staff and students should follow previous guidelines, including the 10-day quarantine. Details of IDPH’s guidelines for K-12 schools can be found at dph.illinois.gov/covid19/community-guidance/school-guidance.html

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