D86 announces plans for school start

Hinsdale High School District 86 schools will open next week with a variety of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place, including universal masking.

The district's goal is to maximize consistent, full-time, in-person instruction, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said in introducing the plan.

"All of these strategies matter and we use them," she said. "Working together, they provide the best defense."

In addition to wearing masks, as mandated Aug. 4 by Gov. JB Pritzker, students will be seated 3 feet apart in classrooms and will have the opportunity to participate in PCR testing on a weekly basis (possibly more often based on level of community transmission) and to avoid quarantine, if the Illinois Department of Public Health approves a "test to stay" protocol. The DuPage County Health Department has the final say on which option can be used in each case, Prentiss said.

The board voted 6-1 to use the Shield Illinois PCR test, which is being paid for by the state through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, to all students and staff. A third party agency will handle collecting the saliva samples and reporting the results.

"Any unvaccinated student or employee that is participating in or leading extracurricular activities must participate in the Shield screening program in order to access that activity," Prentiss said.

Rapid antigen tests will be available at no charge if needed.

District officials also will encourage all students to get the vaccine.

"We will absolutely continue to promote those opportunities for students to be vaccinated," Prentiss said, noting 54 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in DuPage County are fully vaccinated. At Hinsdale Central, 45 percent of students have filed proof of vaccination, she added.

Students who are home sick or under quarantine will not have access to Zoom instruction but will work with a staff member from the Student Success Center to keep current on their assignments.

If the transmission level remains in the "high" category, events like districtwide staff training, curriculum night and parent-teacher conferences will be held virtually, Hinsdale South Principal Arwen Pokorny-Lyp said.

The district is still working on a plan for how and where students will be seated at lunch.

"That's where our close contacts are going to happen," Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh said. "They are going to happen in the lunchroom and on the athletic fields and in the clubs."

The library might be used to provide seating space for some at 6 feet apart, he noted.

"We're exploring it," Walsh said. "If you have ideas, I'm open to them. I don't have all the answers. I'm looking for ideas."

The district is still waiting for the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide a decision tree that will determine what course of action the district must take in response to an outbreak or other serious developments.

Administrators also discussed efforts underway to support students academically and emotionally. Parent Leah Torsberg encouraged the board to reach out to all students, even if they seem to be handling everything well.

"Not every child is going to exhibit the stress or ask for help, but they are distressed," she said. "Whatever it takes, please reach out to every child."

Parent Lisa Pomeroy, a District 86 graduate, criticized the governor's mask order.

"Personally I think masking should be a choice between parents and kids," she said. "It seems like everything has already been agreed to. This is the way it's going to be. He is going to dictate everything."

Parent Polly Ascher said the real emergency involves the mental health of students. She also encouraged the board to hire a third party to evaluate the harm masks cause from psychological, physical and academic angles. Teens agreed to get vaccinated thinking their lives would go back to normal, she said.

"They feel deceived," she said. "They will not forget this inhumane cruelty that has been thrust upon them. History will not look kindly upon what we have done."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean