All fifth-graders at Lake Bluff Elementary School may have to study remotely through next week after at least two students tested positive for COVID-19, according to school officials.
The students may have been exposed to the virus in mid-September at multiple organized sports events and a large social gathering involving mainly fifth-grade students, said District 65 Superintendent Lisa Leali.
“There were enough students who could have been potential contacts that we decided, out of an abundance of caution, to shift the fifth-grade level to all remote learning until the Lake County Health Department could complete their investigation,” Leali said Friday evening.
Leali did not believe it was necessary to have students from other grades at the pre-K through fifth grade school stay home next week because the majority of children at the gatherings were fifth-graders, she said.
“The events, from what we can tell, were very limited in terms of who was participating from the tracing we were able to do,” Leali said.
In a statement issued by the village of Lake Bluff, there were two cases in which parents did not immediately report coronavirus symptoms or that the children had tested positively to the school district.
District officials strongly encouraged those with possible exposure to COVID-19 to report the information to the school to ensure that in-person classes may remain in place for as many children as possible.
“Our role is to educate Lake Bluff’s children despite a public health emergency, not to monitor Lake Bluff’s families,” School Board President Mark Barry said in a statement. “Families that can’t or won’t make the hard choices that keep COVID-19 out of our buildings should take advantage of remote learning until this crisis is over. The alternative puts our students, our educators and our community in danger.”
The school district was initially informed by the Lake County Health Department of one positive case on Monday, but decided to keep children in school based on conversations with health officials, Leali said.
“As we learned more and the Health Department got more information from the people involved, we realized there were a lot more opportunities for exposure and that is why we made the decision to shift to remote,” Leali said.
A Lake County Health Department spokeswoman said via text they work closely with all school districts as every COVID-19 case is investigated.
Leali did not have any specific information on the health of the infected children.
District 65 has been offering in-person learning this semester with families also allowed to select an exclusively remote option.
Leali said there are 52 fifth-grade students and roughly half were already learning exclusively remotely. She added the fifth-grade classrooms would now undergo a deep cleaning.
The five teachers involved with fifth-grade students had been instructing from a distance and officials did not think they would have been exposed to the virus, but Leali conceded the teachers are now feeling anxious.
“They want to trust the community is giving us the information they need,” Leali said
Leali said all fifth-graders are scheduled to return to school Oct. 5 and after talking with both the county and state health departments late Friday, she thought some of the students might be able to return to the building next week pending further investigation.
The district has put procedures in place this year including temperature checks and self-certification from families before students enter the two district schools, Leali said.
She does not foresee any significant changes to protocols despite the recent positive tests.
“We feel confident in the system we have set up,” Leali said.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter.