Return To Learn District Update

With the excitement of the start of the school year approaching, it is vital that everyone recognize the importance of working together for a safe and enjoyable start to the school year.  The Board of Education supports the district administrators' approach to recognize differences of opinions and experiences related to COVID-19. It is important for the district to develop a plan that allows for flexibility to make decisions based on vaccination status, community, school and classroom conditions, available space and situational needs. Triad’s Return to Learn plan will promote strategies to reduce the risk and likelihood of COVID-19 spread in our schools.  

Recently, we released a survey to gather feedback from both parents and staff on the protocols necessary to ensure a safe return to school.  From the survey responses (over 2500 parents and almost 300 staff members), we learned that…

  • Approximately 85% of the staff and almost 50% of eligible students are now vaccinated. 
  • Approximately 80% of Triad staff and parents think that masks should be recommended and not required in the school setting.  
  • Participation in a non-invasive weekly screening for COVID for unvaccinated students would be welcomed by over 60% of parents if other mitigation strategies were able to be lessened.  
  • 16% of K-6 parents would prefer for their student to be assigned to a classroom where masking was required. 

The District’s Return to Learn Plan is being developed after consultation with many stakeholder groups.  When completed, the Return to Learn Plan will be located on the District’s web site and the public will be given the opportunity to comment on the details of the plan.  While last year, a significant focus of the District’s Return to Learn Plan involved remote instruction, the primary educational focus for 2021-22 is to keep all students safely learning in-person.  The purpose of our prevention strategies is to keep students learning in-person and to minimize the need to quarantine students from attending school.  

The prevention strategies that the Triad School District will employ for the 2021-22 school year include the following:  

Promoting vaccination 
The CDC and IDPH continue to promote vaccination as the leading health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccination remains the most effective way to keep our students safe and in-person throughout the school year.  The Triad District does not require but strongly encourages eligible students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  According to CDC and IDPH guidelines, vaccinated students and staff will not be required to be quarantined from school even when they are identified as a close contact to a positive COVID-19 individual.  This means that vaccinated students can continue to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities even if they are a close contact to a COVID positive person.  

In a continued effort to encourage vaccination for those that are eligible (currently 12 years and older), Triad is offering a COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic at THS on July 28th from 3:30-7:30 PM for anyone 12 years and older. Eligible students must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.  Both first and second Pfizer Vaccine doses will be available.  A second clinic will be scheduled three weeks after the July 28th clinic at Triad High School.  We will continue to work with the Madison County Health Department and offer future clinics at our schools as we anticipate the vaccine will become available for our younger populations. To schedule a vaccination appointment at Triad High School or any other clinics in Madison County, please visit the Madison County Public Health Department website.

Physical distancing
A primary prevention strategy for all students is to continue to practice social distancing.  The CDC and IDPH have updated guidance and are advising schools when possible to maintain 3 feet of distance between students.  At the elementary level, the District will continue to keep class sizes small in an effort to maintain three feet of social distance in most situations.  Even at the middle and high school levels where many are vaccinated, the District has made efforts to keep class sizes under 25 in order for students and staff to be physically distanced in most situations.   In addition, cafeterias and other common spaces will be arranged in order for students to maintain 3 feet of distance whenever possible.  For those students that are unable to be vaccinated, COVID screened, or masked, the recommended physical distance to be considered a close contact increases from 3 feet to 6 feet.  

Wearing masks 
Wearing masks remains one of the mitigation strategies that the Triad District will continue to utilize.  In the 2020-21 school year, masks were required at all times when indoors at school.  As we begin the 2021-22 school year, masks will not be required at all times during the school day. However, masks are strongly encouraged for all students that are not vaccinated.  

Every student should bring a mask to school daily. There are currently two situations when students/staff will be required to wear a mask: 

  • On a school bus 
  • When directed by an adult 

Students may be asked by an adult to wear a mask for periods of time during the school day.   As an example of this situation, a teacher may ask students to put on a mask when completing a science lab where partners will be in close contact for an extended period of time.   Teachers will have the autonomy to have their students wear masks for periods of time when they feel that the students are in close contact.  In addition, there may be times during the school year due to increased rates in the community, that a mandatory mask policy will be implemented for a short time until transmission decreases.  

At the K-6 level, parents can request that their student be placed in a classroom where masks will be worn at all times.  All parents who filled out the survey last week were given the opportunity to make this request.  If you did not fill out the survey and would like to request that your K-6 student be assigned to a classroom where masks are worn at all times while indoors, please email your student’s building principal by Monday, July 26th.  While the District cannot guarantee that we will be able to meet this request, we are working on a schedule at each of our large elementary schools that will allow for one classroom at each grade level where masks are worn at all times. 

Weekly COVID Screening 
SHIELD IL is a COVID screening program designed by University of Illinois to assist schools in identifying asymptomatic cases and preventing outbreaks.  The test is a non-invasive, saliva-based collection that is self administered at each supervised school site.  At the start of the school year, screening will be made available to students once per week and will take approximately 5 minutes to complete the process. Saliva samples are collected, transported, and analyzed by a CLIA-certified lab partner and results are provided in less than a 24-hour period.  This screening targets specific COVID (PCR) markers and can be used to detect the presence of COVID for individuals who are displaying symptoms or are asymptomatic. Once completed, all samples that have been collected are permanently destroyed. 

Students participating in the school testing program will be eligible for the modified definition of close contact in a classroom setting. Currently, the modified definition for classroom close contacts are those who come within 3 feet or less of a COVID-19 positive individual for a cumulative time of 15 minutes or more.  Students who are not vaccinated and do not participate in the weekly screening program are considered close contacts at 6 feet or less of a COVID-19 positive individual for a cumulative time of 15 minutes.  

Next week, parents will be notified of a form to complete in Skyward Family Access that will allow them to opt-out of the weekly COVID screening program. 

Staying home when sick/COVID testing for symptomatic individuals 
As was the case in the 2020-21 school year, the District will continue to ask parents to keep students home that are exhibiting COVID symptoms.  Keeping students and adults that are sick out of schools remains the number one way to prevent the spread of COVID as well as other illnesses.   One significant change for the 2021-22 school year is that students that are exhibiting mild COVID symptoms at school will not automatically be excluded.  Upon receiving parent permission, District school nurses will be able to administer a BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen rapid test .  If the results of this test are negative for COVID, the student may be allowed to stay in school.   The District’s Return to Learn Plan will provide more details on the COVID symptoms.  

Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The district has equipped all classrooms and entryways with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 80% alcohol that can be used. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette (coughing/sneezing) will be taught and emphasized in the 2021-22 school year.  

Contact Tracing & Exclusion/Quarantine from School 
Keeping students in school is a primary focus of the District’s plans.  However, there could be times where students who are not able to maintain social distance would have to be quarantined from school for a period of time (likely 7 to 10 days) if it is determined that they were in close contact with a COVID positive individual.  The District is still waiting on final guidance from IDPH regarding the length of time students will have to quarantine from school. However, students who participate in other mitigation strategies may not have to quarantine even if they are a close contact to a COVID positive individual. CDC and IDPH have confirmed that vaccinated individuals will not have to be quarantined from school even if they are a close contact.  For those that are not vaccinated, participating in COVID screening and/or wearing a mask will allow them to remain in-person in most situations.  As more details or updates are provided to the District from IDPH with regards to quarantining students from school, we will provide parents with this information as quickly as possible.  
Proper Cleaning and Disinfection        
Similar to last year, classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized throughout the day and disinfected with an approved EPA disinfectant.  Disinfectant application through electrostatic spraying and manual cleaning methods will also be conducted routinely in all building spaces. Staff and students will also have the ability to sanitize their work spaces with the use of liquid spray bottles that will be available in all classrooms.

The District, in consultation with the Madison County Health Department will make decisions about when to add or remove any of the prevention strategies for the students and staff based on local conditions, transmission rates of the virus within our school community, the success of the Shield IL testing program and percent of students vaccinated.   

We are very excited about the start of the 2021-22 school year.  Although the uncertainties of COVID are not yet behind us, we know we are better equipped to keep our students in-person for full days of school as the 2021-22 school year begins. We need everyone’s help, support and patience to keep our students safe and focused on learning.