Student Well-Being

Chicago Schools Are Sending Students Home With COVID-19 Tests Over Winter Break

By Tracy Swartz, Chicago Tribune — December 16, 2021 4 min read
A child gets a COVID-19 test.

Chicago Public Schools says it will distribute about 150,000 take-home COVID-19 test kits Friday to 309 schools in communities hit hard by the pandemic.

The news comes after CPS reported its highest weekly COVID-19 case count last week — 764 students and 246 adults. The district also reported its highest daily case count on Monday — 223 students and 59 adults. Last month CPS was recording about 300 to 400 total cases a week.

“In Chicago, we are in a wicked post- Thanksgiving COVID surge — 929 daily cases on average here in the city of Chicago. As the city goes, so goes CPS,” Dr. Kenneth Fox, CPS’ chief health officer, said at Wednesday’s monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting. “When cases surge in the city, so, too, do they surge at CPS. We’ve seen this before, and we are seeing it now.”

Schools picked to receive test kits are said to be in neighborhoods designated high risk for COVID-19, or they are elementary schools in neighborhoods deemed medium risk. Families who receive the kits are “strongly encouraged” to test students Dec. 28 and drop the sample at their nearest FedEx Drop Box that day to allow “adequate time” to get the result before students return from winter break Jan. 3. Students who test positive would be directed to isolate for 10 days from the testing date.

“I ask parents, I plead with parents: Please take advantage of this if your school is in one of these communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Take advantage of this test, especially with all the gatherings ... during Christmas. This way we’ll know that your child is not positive and, again, will help us to keep our schools safe.”

Illinois is also experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases. State health officials on Wednesday reported 9,784 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the second-highest total in a single day this year. Over the past week, the state has averaged 7,646 cases per day, up from 7,417 per day the previous week and 3,452 per day a month ago.

The state also reported 79 additional fatalities Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 27,013 since the pandemic began.

See Also

Repetitive pattern of gift cards with red bows and testing swabs in tubes on gray background
iStock/Getty Images Plus

CPS and health officials say indoor masking, social distancing, promoting strong hand hygiene and reporting cases promptly to the district’s contact tracing team are effective mitigation strategies. A CPS spokesperson said the district has 38 contact tracers plus five in training who could start taking cases after winter break. CPS started the school year with 24 contact tracers.

After one CPS parent told board members at Wednesday’s meeting she had not received enough notification of positive cases at her son’s school, Fox acknowledged “there are mistakes that happen. There are delays that occur. We hear about them, and we address them as they arise. But I think the protocol is the right one.”

At the board meeting, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey renewed his call for a metric that would outline when a school or district would shift to remote learning. Students spent most of the last school year learning from home before CPS and CTU reached agreements to reopen buildings after tense negotiations.

“What I need you to understand is that if you do not formulate a clear guideline — a guardrail, if you will — that parents, the public and the members of my union can understand and have some confidence in, that it’s going to cause problems as we look to the new year,” Sharkey said.

“I’m not looking for a repeat of last winter. I still have nightmares and insomnia about that. But I’m also not going to be the frog who doesn’t jump out of the pot before I get boiled.”

Aside from the take-home test kits, CPS has a weekly testing program that’s mandatory for unvaccinated staff members and voluntary for students. About 40,000 students are registered for testing, though some students may choose not to participate in the program after they become vaccinated, Fox said.

See Also

The district said it has conducted more than 260,000 tests since the start of school.

About 0.83% of those who participated last week — 258 people — tested positive from 31,500 tests administered, according to CPS data.

The district directs unvaccinated people who come in close contact with an infected person to quarantine. About 6,800 students and 380 adults on Tuesday were in isolation because they tested positive or in quarantine because they were a close contact. Martinez said the district is being cautious by “over-quarantining,” and he expects quarantine numbers to rise.

“We’re flipping quite a few classrooms (to remote learning). ... Right now with cases surging, I can make a logical argument for it,” Martinez said. “But what I still worry about is the impact we have on parents.”

CPS is piloting a test-to-stay program in one classroom of one elementary school that would allow unvaccinated students to avoid quarantine through a series of negative COVID-19 tests.

About 13.3% of CPS students ages 5 to 11 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to district data. More than 55% of students between 12 and 17 and half of adult students obtained at least one shot. The district acknowledged a lag in uploading student vaccination records. Ninety percent of CPS staff are fully vaccinated, the district said.

See Also

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters rally outside the garage doors of the Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles on Sept. 9, 2021. The Los Angeles board of education voted to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend in-person classes in the nation's second-largest school district.
Protesters rally against a COVID vaccine mandate for students outside the headquarters of Los Angeles Unified school district in September. Statewide, a COVID-19 vaccinate mandate for school attendance will begin to take effect for all of California's school districts in July.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Related Tags:

Copyright (c) 2021, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Balanced Screen Time
This Spotlight will help you understand responsible online behavior, what schools can do to prevent the overuse of technology, and more.
Student Well-Being Half of School Nurses Report Being Harassed, Threatened
The past few years have been tough for school nurses for a few different reasons.
2 min read
Missy Gendron RN, Lewiston High School nurse, unpacks pooled COVID-19 testing materials on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Maine. Gendron is going to be doing a walk through with staff next week. Classroom pooled testing is planned for the week following. Consent for COVID-19 pooled testing is being collected from parents now.
Missy Gendron, a nurse at Lewiston High School in Maine, unpacks COVID-19 testing materials in September 2021.
Andree Kehn/Sun Journal via AP
Student Well-Being School Sports Participation Drops, Raising Concern About 'Physical Learning Loss'
But interest in e-sports and inclusive teams is rising.
5 min read
The Michigan City High School Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a Future Wolves basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the high school.
The varsity girls basketball team at Michigan City High School in Michigan City, Ind., hosted a basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls last spring.
Kelley Smith/The News Dispatch via AP
Student Well-Being Biden's National Strategy on Hunger: What It Means for Schools
The administration seeks more access to free school meals and nutritious foods. But a universal free meals bill is stalled in Congress.
4 min read
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in Washington on Sept. 28.
Evan Vucci/AP