SYCAMORE – The Sycamore District 427 school board on Tuesday decided to move forward with a return to the classroom despite the coronavirus surging in the county and the district's own metrics indicating students should remain learning remotely.
No vote was taken, but members Jim Dombek, James Chyllo, Jeff Jacobson and Eric Jones spoke in favor of keeping the district's plan to return on Nov. 4.
Board member Eric Jones said he wished the district had opened six weeks ago, adding that he thought the sample size of the testing data was small.
"We want to be objective and we want to look at the data and that's going to drive our decision," Jones said. "But we also discussed the limitation of the data and what a reasonable number is or if we're going to stay at those numbers. What struck me in the numbers today is we're testing roughly half a percent of DeKalb's population on a daily basis. That's a small subset. If we were testing 10% of the population, and I'm not a statistics major. I don't know how much you have to test for it to be statistically significant."
Current school metric data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which was also adopted by the district, showed a positivity rate (8.7% from Oct. 11-17) and cases per 100,000 (194) both well above what the state considers substantial risk, which according to the Sycamore plan would indicate remote learning.
Superintendent Steve Wilder also showed data from Northwestern University, which he said the DeKalb County Health Department told him may not be totally accurate, that the positivity rate in Sycamore on Monday was 12.5% and Cortland was 11.95%. The new cases per 100,000 - which has a target number of 50 - was 353.4 for Sycamore and 411.3 for Cortland.
"I question why we developed a metric that embraced a metric if we weren't going to pay attention to it," board member Kris Wrenn said. "I struggle with the fact that numbers are worse now. No matter what you think of those numbers and that data, they are worse now in our county and our city than they have been since this began."
Wrenn said she wants students in school, as well as the teachers. She also said she's not sure that's possible.
"I'm not sure that's the reality we're living in right now," Wrenn said.
Board member James Chyllo said that parents still have the option to keep their children doing remote learning if they are uncomfortable sending them.
"They can keep their kids home and they should keep their kids home," Chyllo said. "They should 100% do that and I applaud them for making that decision. But then let's give parents the ability to say 'Yes I want to put my kid in school cause they are having these issues and they need face to face interaction.'"
Wilder said about 70 to 75% of families have opted to return to the classroom.
The plan will see the Sycamore classes split into two, with one group in person and the other remote from home viewing a live feed of the classroom and participating from home. Families who chose the fully remote option will participate in the live stream every day.
"Are you the people who are going to be teaching those children," board member Julenne Davey said. "Are you the people that are going to be put in the position to go in and risk infection? ... No. We're up here saying go back to school, go back to school. Are you going into those classrooms? Are you teaching those children? No, you're not. You don't know what the anxiety level is. You have to put yourself in the position of the people who have to go and do it."
Dombek said he still gets nervous but thought the benefits of a return outweighed the negatives.
"One of the points Eric made at a previous meaning, just bringing kids back to the classroom and showing them what the expectations are for how we should behave during this pandemic, and instructing them in washing their hands and wearing their mask and socially distancing, that that's going to have an impact on the way we go forward," Dombek said. "I received a lot of positive comments about that school of logic. There may be children who aren't being taught that by their parents or the situation that they're in."