COVID-19 outbreaks reported at 26 Illinois schools, weeks after classes start | Govt-and-politics

Gov. J.B. Pritzker stresses the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations during a news conference Thursday.

More than two dozen Illinois schools are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, weeks after students returned to the classroom for in-person learning at fully reopened schools.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday listed 26 Illinois schools with COVID-19 outbreaks, including several in the suburban Chicago areas of Cook, Lake, Kane and Will counties.

While a few schools reporting outbreaks have been put on probation by the state for flouting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate, most of the recent outbreaks are at school districts that are complying with the executive order, including Glenbrook Elementary School in Streamwood, which reported between 11 and 16 related cases of COVID-19.

“Due to a COVID outbreak in a fourth/fifth split grade level classroom, we shifted to Distance Learning for this classroom only, effective today,” Glenbrook principal Cheryl DeRoo wrote in an Aug. 24 parent letter.

The classroom is closed until Sept. 7, DeRoo said, a decision that was made by Elgin-based Unit School District 46 Superintendent Tony Sanders based on the recommendation of the Cook County Health Department.

With the exception of the one classroom, “the remainder of our Glenbrook Elementary classrooms remain open for in-person learning,” DeRoo wrote.

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Other suburban Chicago schools reporting COVID-19 outbreaks this week include Oak Park-River Forest High School, Maine East High School, East Aurora School District 131, Highland Elementary School in Skokie, Woodland Elementary School in Grayslake, Kaneland John Shields Elementary School in Elburn, and Nelson Ridge Elementary School in New Lenox.

Outbreaks reported by IDPH include those that have been identified by the school’s local health department to have two or more COVID-19 cases among people who may have a shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households.

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The criteria for an outbreak was previously five or more cases but recently changed, said IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

“Outbreaks at schools are two or more cases epidemiologically linked — people were in the same space at the same time,” Arnold said in a statement.

Case counts for school-related outbreaks also include those associated with before and after school programs, including school-sponsored activities such as athletic events.

Most of the schools listed as having outbreaks reported fewer than five cases. Downstate Carlyle School District 1, which is on the state’s list of school districts refusing to comply with the statewide indoor mask mandate, reported 16 or more.

The state’s school COVID-19 data, which is updated weekly, on Tuesday also included 546 schools identified by contact tracers as having “potential” COVID-19 exposures.

The number of public and private schools sanctioned for non-compliance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate also continued to climb this week, with a private school in Arlington Heights, the Christian Liberty Academy, among the latest to have its status changed to “unrecognized.”

Officials at Christian Liberty were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

In an Aug. 26 letter to the school, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala warned the state had “verified that Christian Liberty Academy will not comply with the universal masking requirements set forth in (the mask mandate),” and was “removing your school’s status as a recognized nonpublic school, effective immediately.”

As a result of being non-recognized, the school will face a slate of consequences, including being prohibited from participating in Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association sanctioned sports, and families will be blocked from the Invest in Kids Act tax scholarship program.

“We do not take this action lightly,” Ayala wrote. “The purpose of the universal indoor masking requirement is to ensure that all students can safely attend school in-person this fall.”

While ISBE has reported 62 Illinois school districts since the start of the 2021-22 school year are failing to comply with the mask mandate, a growing number of schools have since agreed to follow the order.