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DeKalb school district halts in-person learning start date due to positivity rate rises

Kindergarten through second-grade students are scheduled to return Monday for in-person learning. Through parent surveys, Lechner said 49% of pre-kindergarten students and 42% have expressed interest in returning to school.
Kindergarten through second-grade students are scheduled to return Monday for in-person learning. Through parent surveys, Lechner said 49% of pre-kindergarten students and 42% have expressed interest in returning to school.

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DeKALB – In a letter to parents sent Friday morning, the DeKalb school district announced it would not return to in-person learning on Monday and would suspend current in-person programs, effective Monday, due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

Kindergarten, first and second graders were scheduled to return Monday. Since Oct. 12, a portion of high-need students were back in the classroom. They will return to remote learning Monday.

Interim superintendent Ray Lechner said the news was disappointing.

"I, myself, yes. Yes to that," he said. "We were moving forward, we have a plan we want to implement and it will be two weeks now before we can reconsider."

Lechner said the district needs to wait two weeks before being able to re-open and can do so once the seven-day rolling positivity rate drops back below 8% - which hasn't happened in weeks.

The seven-day rolling positivity rate for the county was 9.3% at the last update. On Thursday, the county announced 56 new cases of the respiratory virus, the largest one-day increase in the county so far.

Lechner said the district was using the positivity rates only for DeKalb, Cortland and Malta but after meeting with the DeKalb County Health Department on Thursday, decided to start using countywide metrics. DeKalb is responsible for most of the tests in the county so that data would be representative, Lechner said the health department told him.

Lechner said the district is still hoping to move forward with its return plans. Third through fifth graders, as long with a majority of high-need students, were slated to return Nov. 30.

Lechner said that is still the goal.

"We haven't shifted our eyeballs yet," Lechner said. "We are still keeping our targets. That's today. Obviously, the positivity rate is going to drive our decisions."

According to the district's metrics site, seven staff members and five students are quarantined, while two staff and one student have tested positive.

"That's the bottom line," Lechner said. "The matrix is online and it says 8% and over we need to do remote," Lechner said.
That matrix came from the state, is used in a majority of the county, and we adopted it with input from the county health department."

Sycamore Superintendent Steven Wilder said the district is still targeting a Nov. 4 return.

"In addition, our plan all along has been to monitor health data and other variables leading up to Nov. 4," Wilder said in an email to the Chronicle. "This will be one of my talking points at the Board Meeting next Tuesday. I want to make sure the Board and community see the data that I'm looking at and that will be just more than a week before Nov. 4."

Genoa-Kingston Superintendent Brent O'Daniell said there was no plan to change the district's model of yet.

Indian Creek Superintendent Chad Willis said with low overall positivity rates in Paw Paw, Waterman, and Shabbona, the district has not planned to stop in-person classes yet.

"The feedback we have received from the parents, students, and staff is very positive so we plan to continue to meet in person," Willis said in an e-mail to the Chronicle. "The District will modify our learning plan if the data indicates we need to adjust in the future.  We have been very pleased with how well our students and staff have followed the safety procedures and protocols in our Back to School Plan. They have done a phenomenal job!"

Emails to other county superintendents had not yet been returned.

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