HEYWORTH — Heyworth schools are taking an “adaptive pause” and returning to remote learning this week amid rising COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages.
“Staffing and substitute shortages have been a challenge all school year, and the issue is heightened when we have multiple staff missing for extended periods of time,” Superintendent Lisa Taylor told The Pantagraph on Tuesday.
In a social media post Monday after students were off for the Columbus Day holiday, Taylor said students would not have homework Tuesday and would begin working in the remote learning schedule Wednesday.
Positive cases at Heyworth Elementary have more than doubled in the last week; those students will be in remote learning at least through the end of this week, expecting to return Monday “as long as we do not have a significant increase in cases,” Taylor wrote in a letter to families.
All school activities or events at the elementary are canceled until in-person learning resumes.
Four staff members and 17 students at the elementary school currently are testing positive. Because of the increase, Taylor said the elementary school also needs to be deep cleaned and disinfected, and contact tracing has been conducted as more cases come in.
Districtwide, more than 75 people are now in quarantine, and the majority of those are from the elementary school, Taylor said. In the last public health update released by the district Friday, 48 people were in quarantine, indicating an increase of more than 56% in the last four days.
“Very few” are in quarantine at the junior/senior high school, and after consulting with the McLean County Health Department, Heyworth administrators determined those students can resume in-person learning on Thursday with regularly scheduled activities and events.
Regional Superintendent Mark Jontry, whose office covers DeWitt, Livingston, Logan and McLean counties, said Heyworth is the only district in the region that has taken an adaptive pause this semester.
For rural districts, staffing constraints related to the pandemic are the biggest issue that would prevent in-person learning to continue, he said.
Like Taylor has done, district administrators work with the health department to “come to a collective decision” for the best course of action, and they “can choose to go remote even if they don’t meet a threshold” for number of cases or percentage in quarantine, Jontry said.
Taylor said the safety of students and staff continues to be the priority, with existing and increased mitigation efforts.
That includes: deep cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in both buildings, offering voluntary weekly testing for staff, increasing physical distance during in-person learning, using outdoor spaces as allowable, increasing ventilation, offering hand sanitization and encouraging those with COVID symptoms to stay home.
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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.