Parents raise concerns over district’s COVID-19 protocols

As Shorewood students have returned to school after the Thanksgiving holiday, community transmission levels of Covid-19 continue to increase. The village’s burden for the past two weeks was 418 cases per 100,000 as of December 14. On November 19, prior to Thanksgiving break, the case burden for the past two weeks had been 202 cases per 100,000.

Along with the masking requirements and other Covid-19 procedures, the district has implemented several services designed to help Shorewood students, staff and families prevent the spread of Covid-19. This includes a free testing center in the Shorewood Public Library and a vaccine drive for elementary school students. During the week before November 19, 45 students from Lake Bluff Elementary school entered quarantine. As quarantine procedures vary due to vaccination status, the recent approval of the vaccine for children five and up, along with the district’s vaccine drive, should help to alleviate spread and reduce the number of quarantines.

“I believe roughly 150 students here in Shorewood… came to [the vaccine drive],” said Kelly Barlow, district nurse. “I know that vaccination is a huge part of mitigation. We know that vaccinated individuals do not spread Covid and do not get sick as much as unvaccinated individuals.”

As winter break approaches, JoAnn Sternke, interim superintendent, urges students and their families to take full advantage of these resources. Prior to and after winter break, the library testing center will be open for longer hours to facilitate convenient testing for students, staff and their families.

“We are encouraging people to get tested prior to coming back after winter break on January 4,” Sternke said. “We will be expanding those testing offers.”

I know that vaccination is a huge part of mitigation. We know that vaccinated individuals do not spread Covid and do not get sick as much as unvaccinated individuals.

— Kelly Barlow, district nurse

Some Shorewood parents are dissatisfied with the district’s handling of the pandemic. “Shorewood Parents Advocating for Safe Schools” was a Facebook group that started last school year, allowing parents to share information regarding learning models and Covid-19 procedures. At the school board meeting on November 30, members of this group read a letter to district administrators and school board members outlining their primary concerns and advice for the school district. The group asked for the following: vaccine mandates for staff members, stricter masking requirements, enforcement of social distancing, more frequent and clear communication regarding Covid in the schools and widespread testing.

“We were hoping by putting the letter together that the school board would understand we had concerns,” said Lanette Brockman, mother of two Atwater students and member of this group.

Brockman is primarily frustrated with the lack of communication between parents and district administrators. While she realizes that Shorewood is doing better in terms of Covid than districts and communities across the state, Brockman rejects this comparison.

“I’ve heard this a lot from the school board and administration … I’m told ‘well, we’re doing so much more than other districts.’ I don’t really care,” Brockman said. “What other districts are doing doesn’t really matter to me, my kids are in this district.”

Another concern shared by group members is delays in the contact tracing process. In their letter to the school board, “Shorewood Parents Advocating for Safe Schools” claimed that contact tracing can sometimes be completed up to one to two weeks after exposure, and is not conducted over the weekends, limiting the timeliness and accuracy shared to close contacts. Due to the influx of at-home tests, and late reporting and misinformation from families, Barlow assures families that contact tracing is completed as quickly as possible. 

“I can completely understand parents’ frustration with not being notified of a positive [case] for seven, ten, 14 days later, it’s just when we’re notified of it, parents often [are] notified [to quarantine] within 24 to 48 hours so it’s a delay in letting us know when somebody is positive,” Barlow said. 

What other districts are doing doesn’t really matter to me, my kids are in this district.

— Lanette Brockman, Shorewood Parents Advocating for Safe Schools member

The parents also shared their complaints regarding mask compliance within various district schools. According to Sternke, students who are reported to administration for habitual mask noncompliance will face consequences.

John Hayes, Shorewood parent and past member of last year’s School Reopening Group, also signed off on the letter. Hayes primarily wishes that the district could still have a virtual option so that students would not get behind in school when cautiously deciding to stay home if they show symptoms. 

“I wish that parents weren’t forced to decide whether to send a sniffly kid to school or keep them at home while they get behind,” Hayes said.

Right now, there is no virtual learning option for students who contract Covid-19 and have to be quarantined, and the district is not currently considering adding one. There is also no temporary virtual learning option for students who have to quarantine for multiple weeks. However, the district would begin conversations surrounding going virtual or canceling school when three percent of the student body is diagnosed with Covid-19, when they can no longer staff classes with teachers or substitutes and when the community burden exceeds the comfort level of district administrators and board members. Sternke is confident that the district will not have to return to online learning anytime soon.

“On even the worst week we have had since the beginning of the year, we have never reached a one percent threshold, so those discussions have never come into play,” Sternke said.

I wish that parents weren’t forced to decide whether to send a sniffly kid to school or keep them at home while they get behind.

— John Hayes, former School Reopening Group member

While they may disagree on Covid-19 management and procedures, both Brockman and Sternke share the end goal of keeping students, staff, administrators and community members safe and healthy. They both understand others’ frustrations in the extent of the pandemic; however, they encourage people to continue to take the pandemic seriously.

“I get that people are over it and I get that people don’t want to think about it anymore, but our hospitals are full,” Brockman said. “Half the state is doing nothing, I want to do better than nothing.”

“I think all of us didn’t anticipate that we would be wearing masks as long as we are… I’m just really proud of people’s persistence and diligence in terms of wearing masks and all that needs to occur to mitigate the spread,” Sternke said.