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Amid virus cases, Sycamore elementary students return to classrooms for first time since COVID-19 pandemic

SYCAMORE – Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder spent Wednesday touring the five elementary schools in the district, and said one moment stood out to him more than any other on the first day of a return to the classroom for elementary students.

“There was one young man who walked in the building without his mask on,” Wilder said. “He was 20, 30 feet from the door and all at once you could see the realization he didn’t have it on. He stopped on his own, without being asked, and opened up his bag, pulled his mask on, put it on properly and then came in the building.”

A day after it announced 11 positive cases in the district, and less than 24 hours before students were expected to return to the classrooms, Sycamore schools announced on Tuesday it will postpone the in-person return of middle and high school classes. Elementary schools will open as planned for in-person learning Wednesday, however, with a Nov. 30 target date for the middle and high schools.

In a letter to families sent Tuesday, Superintendent Steve Wilder said all 11 cases announced Monday occurred between Friday and Monday. He also said that the 11 cases had an impact on staffing but did not go into specifics.

And on the first day of elementary students returning to classroom learning Wednesday, the Sycamore School District sent an email to families saying four individuals had tested positive for COVID-19, families of students who were in close contact with the case were notified already and will quarantine for 14 days.

Wilder said safety was the main thing he was looking for during the first day back for in-person learning for the younger students Wednesday, seeing how the students handled the new safety protocols of masking wearing and social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said his goal is to get students back to the classroom as fast and as safe as possible. Wilder said only one of the cases reported Monday was connected to another, and the spread didn’t happen in the school.

“It was a very, very difficult decision and timing was just absolutely horrible,” Wilder said. “It was horrible for everybody. Horrible for the staff and myself having to make the decision last second. We absolutely recognize it was difficult for parents. But we just had several positive cases that came up over the weekend, really that came up after the workday ended on Friday.”

Wilder said he also consulted board president Jim Dombek about the decision and made what he said was the safe decision.

“We needed to do this safely,” Wilder said. “The decision yesterday allowed us to do that today.”

Wilder said if protocols are followed properly, it’s likely to limit spread in the school. He pointed to the fact that none of the 11 cases reported Monday happened at school, from what contact tracing results were received.

“We’ve just listened to anecdotal data, stories that we’ve heard from other districts,” Wilder said. “There’s some spread in schools, but it’s very minimal. Most of the cases we’re hearing about are ones that occur outside of school. The cases we reported Monday n right there was only one case was connected, and even that the connection was not in the school. All the other cases were independent of each other.”

Wilder said those protocols – hand washing, social distancing, and masks – make him believe that having the schools open can be successful long-term for Sycamore.

“It can be easy to get worried about the what-ifs, worry about tomorrow or next week or next month,” Wilder said. “But one of the things we know is the protocols are working and if we stick to those we have the best chance to keep our staff safe, our students safe, and our doors open.”

And on Wednesday, he said, he saw a great energy throughout the district.

“It’s been a long time,” Wilder said. “So from our perspective, to be able to teach students, there was a lot of excitement. … For teachers and staff to see students back in school was great, but also from the student’s perspective, seeing their excitement, for seeing principals, staff, other students, you could just see the excitement in the students, too.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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