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Heyworth schools make temporary move online amid COVID-19 outbreak and staff shortage

Heyworth schools had planned to make masks optional before Gov. JB Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate for schools.
WGLT file photo
Heyworth schools had planned to make masks optional before Gov. JB Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate for schools.
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Heyworth Community Unit School District 4 has pivoted to remote learning because of a coronavirus outbreak. Superintendent Lisa Taylor informed parents of the 934 students in the district on Monday that students will learn online for the rest of the week.

As of Friday, Heyworth had 47 students excluded and eight students who had tested positive or probable for COVID-19. Taylor said Monday evening the numbers have grown.

“The first six weeks of the school year we'd had just a handful of cases. And then I believe we'll be around 20 student positive cases in the last few days and probably three to six teacher positive cases,” said Taylor.

The district is still waiting for several more test results.

She said the cases are at the elementary level. Some classes have had several students in a room test positive, adding contact tracing has yet to be completed to determine whether the outbreak came through community spread or during school contact.

“Our kids are very actively involved, right? They are together not just at school, they're in rec leagues or clubs, choirs, and bands, so they spend a lot of time together, even outside of school. It's a pretty close-knit community,” said Taylor.

There are more considerations than student safety. Right now, Taylor said the district does not have enough staff or substitutes to cover all classes.

“Substitute shortages have been a challenge for everyone this year primarily because we are all back in person. Last year, Heyworth was in person the full year, but many districts around us were not. So, we had a larger sub pool. Sub shortages have been an issue all year, but definitely increased recently,” said Taylor.

The district has increased pay for subs and recruited from college students who are education majors and among parents who have experience in education. She said the district also has worked with the teachers’ union to allow some paraprofessionals to sub.

Taylor said district leaders will meet remotely Tuesday with the McLean County Health Department to reassess and help determine how long the "adaptive pause" will last. It’s currently at least for the rest of the week.

“I don't believe we have any positive cases at the junior-senior high. We will be looking at possibly returning them earlier and returning to activities and events as soon as we can. Really, they just wanted to get a grasp of all the numbers,” said Taylor.

Taylor said she will update parents on Thursday.

Heyworth’s homecoming is over, but she said there are valued traditions coming up students don't want to miss.

“We do have senior night volleyball and senior night football this week. And it's important for kids that if we can do it safely, we will do it safely,” said Taylor.

Dewitt, Livingston, Logan, Mclean County Regional Superintendent of Schools Mark Jontry said he is aware of perhaps a half dozen other districts who have had to move online for a time because of COVID outbreaks.

“It’s not unprecedented and it is something (a) district can do in consultation with their local health departments,” said Jontry, adding staffing issues also were a concern in the other districts that have had to go remote.

“We have been fortunate in our region to not have had this until this point, but it’s probably not unexpected that a district is in this position,” he said.

Students will have no homework on Tuesday, but Heyworth schools said students should follow the remote learning schedule beginning Wednesday.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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