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Local

DeKalb district officials say in-person learning going well after special education students return

Kyle Sticka, (left) head custodian at Founders Elementary School, and custodian Ralph Atkinson move a table into a storage bin Wednesday morning at the school in DeKalb. Many furniture items are being removed from classrooms to help facilitate social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. District 428 schools are continuing to prepare for the return of students even though the year will begin with remote learning.
Kyle Sticka, (left) head custodian at Founders Elementary School, and custodian Ralph Atkinson move a table into a storage bin Wednesday morning at the school in DeKalb. Many furniture items are being removed from classrooms to help facilitate social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. District 428 schools are continuing to prepare for the return of students even though the year will begin with remote learning.

DeKALB - After more than a week with students in a classroom setting for the first time, DeKalb District 428 Director of Student Services Kyle Gerdes said in general things have gone very well.

On Oct. 12, students in the SOAL (specialized opportunities for academic and life skills) program, 18-21 learners, English learners, and others returned to the classroom, the first 428 students to do so.

And with kindergarten, first graders and second graders slated to return Monday, Gerdes said he's reminded of a common piece of advice other administrators have given him.

"What they said is every day you are going to be presented with something new," Gerdes said. "Maybe it's something you thought of. Maybe it's something you didn't. It's going to take a collaborative effort to problems solve and come up with a solution. It's something we had our fair share of last week and I don't anticipate that's going to diminish in the foreseeable future."

Gerdes said the week wasn't without its challenges. The district had a positive case in a student the same week in-person instruction picked back up.

Gerdes said the student was not one of the 89 students that returned last week. While in-person instruction just resumed, there have been athletics, other extracurriculars and some therapies on school grounds.

"We would prefer nobody, whether that be a staff or student, test positive," Gerdes said. "The one thing that I think is a positive we took away from that experience is that we were able to do all those things, in collaboration with our health department. Contract tracing, determine who was in close proximity of that individual, who may need to be quarantined, who doesn't need to quarantine. Then how we were able to our in-district protocols, communicating with staff, communicating with families and getting that information to them as quickly as possible."

Gerdes said he was pleased with the way the district responded to the case. There were also two positive cases from Oct. 9-15 in staff, according to the district website.

Gerdes said it's a complicated process on who is notified when a student or staff member tests positive and depends on a number of different things.

He said some of the factors are who tested positive, when did symptoms present if they did all, and who was in close contact (within six feet for more than 15 minutes regardless of mask usage).

That leads to consultation with the health department on who gets notified.

"Based on the situation and whatever the details of the situation are, that guides us to what kind of follow up we need for those in close contact, but also those that weren't but have a duty to be notified," Gerdes said. "Although it was unfortunate we had a situation like that, we weren't caught off guard by it. We had our procedures in place."

Gerdes said a lot of preparation went into the return of the students last week. Teachers were prepping them leading up to the return on proper social distancing protocols.

Not only was he impressed with the students, Gerdes said he liked how the teachers handled the transition as well.

"I think our staff is starting to acclimate to having both kids in person, but they still have kids at home doing e-learning," Gerdes said. "Trying to balance those at the same time is going to take kind of an adjustment period. But I think even within the first week they are starting to feel like they are getting the hang of it more."

After K-2 students return next week, third, fourth and fifth grades are slated to return on Nov. 30. Remote learning is remaining as an option for all students as well.

"The one thing that was a reminder to me was how resilient people are. Both the adults and the students," Gerdes said. "We certainly prepared for some of our students having a really difficult time transitioning back into school, and I'm not going to say 100% of our students it was an easy transition for them, but overall I think the students did much better than we all anticipated they would."

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