What metrics and thresholds are the Reopening Advisory Board considering in its recommendations for hybrid or remote learning? Why have some of these metrics and thresholds changed over time?
When the District established its Reopening Ladder and Operational Plan at the beginning of the school year, much was still unknown about the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. At the time, community metrics such as positivity rate and cases per 100,000 were considered the best way to assess the risk of COVID-19 spread in a community and, by proxy, in its schools.
In the months since, the experience of schools in New Trier's area and across the country has shown that in-school transmission risk is minimal to none if strong mitigation measures are in place. Those measures include mask wearing, reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, frequent cleaning and handwashing, and enhanced ventilation and air filtration. In addition, New Trier is the first area school to provide weekly COVID-19 saliva screening, which adds another layer of mitigation.
Given the evolving information and successful mitigation measures at New Trier and other schools, the District's Reopening Advisory Board is working on recommendations for a new COVID-19 Dashboard and Reopening Ladder. Some important metrics in addition to community metrics include: District PPE supply, student/staff compliance with mitigation measures, student/staff quarantine levels, staffing levels, COVID-19 saliva screening participation rate and positivity rate, and COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks.
Why does New Trier need to consider broad metrics rather than just metrics for teens, a population that seems to get only mild symptoms from COVID-19?
Scientific research has shown that high school-age students have a low risk of hospitalization or mortality due to COVID-19, especially when compared to other populations. However, the school community is not made up just of teens. Some NTHS Faculty, administrators, and staff are in age ranges that still have small but significant risk factors around COVID-19. In addition, some research has shown that teens are more likely to be asymptomatic spreaders of COVID-19 than other age groups, posing risks to their family, friends, and community. Finally, scientists still have much to learn about the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 on all age groups, including teens. For these reasons, it makes sense to consider both community and internal metrics in decision-making around schools.
How do the school's COVID-19 mitigation measures factor into the school's decision making?
New Trier's mitigation measures are an important factor in the school's decision making. Other schools have operated safely with the mitigation measures New Trier also has in place: mask wearing, reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, frequent cleaning and handwashing, and enhanced ventilation and air filtration. New Trier's weekly COVID-19 saliva screening, with its high student participation rates, adds another layer of mitigation. Other factors include families answering the District's Ruvna health screening questions and quarantining when they have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 or have participated in an activity that significantly increases their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
New Trier has seen thousands of students participate in on-campus athletic and extracurricular programs since the summer and has offered 25% percent hybrid instruction with no reports of in-school transmission of COVID-19.
Is the school considering other factors besides COVID-19 metrics in its decision-making around bringing students back to school?
Yes. While taking all necessary safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, New Trier also must consider the effects of a continued school closure on student mental health and learning. Research from across the country as well as quantitative and qualitative data about New Trier students' experiences are part of the school's decision-making process. Our teachers and advisers are actively monitoring their students.
Why is staffing considered a factor in the school's decision making? Shouldn't all staff be on campus when students are on campus?
New Trier's goal is to have New Trier teachers teaching New Trier students. The District's teachers have developed relationships, excellent curricula, and have spent years in many cases shaping the academic and extracurricular programs that make New Trier unique.
Some teachers with significant health issues or who care for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 have been granted medical accommodations to teach remotely. Other teachers whose own children are in schools that have gone all-remote have worked with the District to come into school a few days a week while juggling childcare. On a given day, approximately 77% of teachers are teaching in school.
The District and Faculty Association continue to work on solutions for more teachers to attend in person, such as supervised rooms for their elementary school-aged children to virtually attend their own schools on both campuses. It is important to work on creative solutions together given the investment New Trier has made in its teachers and their investment in students and knowledge and expertise in New Trier's curricula. In addition, given the ongoing teacher and substitute shortage in the state, finding high-quality teachers able to come to New Trier to work in person right now would be difficult to impossible as well as disruptive to classes and students.
Why is New Trier's approach to reopening different than some other schools' models?
As a large comprehensive high school, New Trier had to look at a variety of different models for providing safe in-person instruction. At elementary and middle schools, for example, it is much easier to provide instruction in cohorts or "pods," meaning students do not move about the buildings and stay with the same small group of students every day, reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure within the larger school population.
New Trier offers a broad core curriculum at different levels and pacing as well as a comprehensive elective program, making it nearly impossible to create small groups of students with the same schedule. As a result, New Trier's plans must take into account movement throughout the school and the ability to serve students in common areas safely with social distancing and reduced capacity. New Trier adjusted to a block schedule this year to provide a more seamless transition between periods of remote and hybrid learning. This schedule works best in a large comprehensive high school setting. Offering two consecutive full days of instruction under a block schedule is also less disruptive to teaching and learning as well as family schedules than half days each day (in which students take a few hours of remote classes and a few hours of in-person instruction each day), with transportation, travel time, multidisciplinary programs, and extracurricular programs posing additional issues in the half-day hybrid model.
New Trier's approach begins with a period of 25% hybrid instruction to give the school a chance to test its procedures and to observe in-school metrics to make any adjustments before a potential move to 50% hybrid instruction.