Dear Catholic School Families,
As shared last week, all archdiocesan schools will temporarily move to virtual learning for the two weeks following Christmas break. We believe taking a prudent, proactive step such as this is in keeping with our safety-first priority. It will best serve not only our students and educators, but also preserve the well-being of our communities at-large.
If you are planning to travel this holiday season, I encourage you to consider such travel over Christmas break instead of Thanksgiving. By doing so, you can return by early January in time to quarantine before in-person classes resume on Jan. 19, 2021. Similarly, I encourage you to practice safe behavior during any in-town gatherings during the holidays. Please see my recent video message covering our holiday schedule and current priorities.
In addition, after carefully studying recent guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA), we have decided to cancel sports games during this school year in our Catholic elementary schools. Practicing and conditioning may occur in select sports, following state guidance. For more information, see the IDPH guidance on youth sports. Note that games will not be allowed in Catholic schools, even when allowed by the state.
Now that we are nearly a quarter through the school year, it is important to discuss what’s working well, note areas of concern and identify actions necessary to maintain a safe and successful school year.
What is working well
Our efforts have created safe havens within our school communities. Despite the rise in cases across our area of the state, very few secondary infections have stemmed from contact within our schools.
- Our committed school leaders, educators and staff are serving more than 45,000 students with strong health and safety systems in place. This is something to be celebrated.
- We have a robust infection prevention and response system, which includes:
- Daily wellness checks of every person who enters any of our 160 archdiocesan school buildings. This equates to more than 15,000 wellness checks on average every day.
- Protocols for immediate isolation and removal of any symptomatic individuals.
- Centralized case management system at the archdiocesan level to facilitate reporting of positive, presumptive positive or close contact cases to dedicated nurses.
- Case tracking and reporting in collaboration with local health agencies.
Areas of Concern
- Principals and teachers are experiencing rising levels of stress as they balance the execution of safety protocols, in-person instruction and virtual learning. Though their efforts to-date are to be lauded, the pace is not sustainable. Effectively delivering both quality in-person instruction and remote live-stream instruction at the same time, and providing each student with the attention required, is much more than merely pointing a livestream camera at the teacher in the classroom. It is challenging from both planning and delivery standpoints. I share this to emphasize just how demanding the role of an educator is at this time so you may have a greater appreciation for how important your full cooperation is in all requirements and requests made by your student’s teachers and principal.
- Family activities outside of school remain the primary source of infections and quarantines. You have heard this before and will continue to hear it until our out-of-school behaviors change and infection rates drop. Only if our families observe behavioral guidelines outside of school will we reduce the infections and quarantines that cause principal and teacher stress.
- Winter presents an additional concern as colder weather sets in and the holiday season approaches. There is a great risk to community health if we move social gatherings indoors and do not heed the warnings and guidance of public health agencies.
Pastors and principals received holiday guidance that details what is and is not permitted, beginning with Halloween and through Christmas. You will learn which activities your school community may engage in directly from your pastor and/or principal.
Many are voicing pandemic fatigue – tired of protocols, restrictions and physical distancing. As a faith community that seeks what is best for the common good, we are called to continue making sacrifices out of love for our neighbors. Please: maintain physical distancing, wear masks whenever you are in public settings outside of your home, wash/sanitize your hands frequently and stay home when you or someone in your home shows any symptoms of illness or is awaiting COVID-19 test results.
Having celebrated All Saints Day yesterday, let us turn to the communion of saints for their intercession as we pray for an end to this pandemic and for one another as we approach these Holy Days.
Yours in Christ,
Jim Rigg, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools