This notice is one that I had dearly hoped to avoid writing this year, but unfortunately has become necessary. These past few weeks have seen a dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases in our county. Up until this week, our mitigation efforts and protocols have been successful in ensuring that spread did not occur within our school buildings. Our students and staff have done an outstanding job in following these important procedures and I cannot commend everyone enough for the cooperative effort it has taken to successfully navigate public education during a pandemic. However, because of increased spread in the area, this has led to large delays before contact tracing can occur. This is no one’s fault except a reflection in the exponential rise of Covid-19 cases in Macoupin County, which in turn is mirroring what is occurring across the state and across much of the nation. In short, we are now being notified of a positive case sometimes a couple of days later due to the backlog at private labs, and by the time we are able to quarantine students or staff, many have been exposed for days. This is not only risky but is irresponsible.
Earlier this year, our district had formed a Re-Opening Committee to look at balancing what is best for kids (in-person instruction) versus what is safe. Our committee also agreed that if numerous quarantines or large increase in Bunker Hill cases and close contacts increase, an adaptive pause or brief pivot to remote learning would need to happen to stop the spread of this virus. Right now, we have the largest number of students and staff on quarantine. This weekly graph will be updated tomorrow and shared to the public. In addition, our district received a written recommendation from the Macoupin County Dept of Public Health last night recommending that all public and private K-12 districts in the county pivot to remote learning as soon as possible. A copy of this letter can be read here: https://bit.ly/2Hir3pX
This massive increase of positive cases in our area is responsible for a delay in contact tracing, which in turn is leading to more and more exposures of students and staff. Prior to this week, I have been extremely proud to tell anyone that Covid-19 spread may be occurring outside school but was not occurring within our schools. Unfortunately, this week I cannot say that with confidence, and therefore cannot guarantee that our schools are as safe as they need to be to protect the health and safety of our students, staff members, and our fellow community members.
I also understand that there are many in our district who firmly believe the virus is not the deadly pandemic we are led to believe. Likewise, many in our district are deeply concerned about each and every potential exposure and the potential to bring Covid-19 home from school into the home of a loved one who is highly at risk. Regardless of our personal feelings on the matter, the opinion of our legal counsel is that continuing to operate in person with increased spread and risks despite a recommendation from our local health department to cease doing so could constitute “reckless behavior.” This could apply however best applies to your views: from a health and safety standpoint, or just a financial one. Sadly, we live in a highly litigious era and Bunker Hill 8 is not immune to what is often a frivolous attempt to litigate for gain. Insurance companies across the state have made it abundantly clear that no school district has “covid-19” coverage, that we can lose tort immunity protection by defying public health guidance, and can be held personally liable for willfully and wantonly disregarding the advice of public health officials.
Therefore, Bunker Hill CUSD #8 must announce that our district will be taking an “adaptive pause” of in-person learning. We will begin this pivot to remote instruction beginning on Monday, November 23 through Tuesday, December 22, 2020.
I would also like to remind everyone at #BHill8 that this decision is not what anyone wanted, and in fact, we should as a community reach out to our friends, neighbors and community in order to help during this time. I also understand that finding alternative arrangements will be difficult, and I empathize completely. If you or anyone you know in the community is particularly impacted hard, whether it be lack of child supervision, or reduction in income when two working parents must now choose who will stay home to care for their child, or whether it be someone who doesn’t have enough to eat, please reach out to help. If you cannot help, please call the district office at (618) 585-3116 and we will try to assist in any way possible. This is not an empty catch phrase, we truly want to help in any way we can and will try our absolute hardest to. I personally have two hands and am more than willing to do what I can for anyone. We will also be providing more information in the coming days regarding IEP support, tech support, counseling, meals and many other resources that we will be offering for our families.
In the meantime, please continue to be gracious to those teachers, building secretaries, administrators, board members, and public health department officials for doing an extremely hard task right now. I understand that there will be frustration and possibly even anger, yet this will not help us get back in session any sooner. If you feel you need to vent your frustrations, please direct them at me. However, next week is Thanksgiving and for a brief time, rather than focus on what is not totally desirable, but instead on the many blessings for which we have to be thankful, such as each other, the best school district in downstate Illinois, and a successful and safe re-opening during the worst pandemic in over 100 years. Ask anyone on the Re-Opening Committee (parents, teachers, etc.) what we were facing this summer, and our goal was to safely make it to Labor Day. Now, on the cusp of Thanksgiving, we are taking a brief “pause.” We should all take extreme pride in this. I certainly do.
As always, please praise your child on the outstanding start of the school year. I truly believe kids need us and need to be in school. I will miss seeing panda habitats from science lessons, spaghetti-stained face masks, and air hugs, along with shooting hoops with students in the BHHS gym. At these times, I can see the happiness in the eyes of our students and know without a doubt that school need kids in them, and kids need to be in school. However, this is only temporary and if it can be done, you should have faith that #BHill8 will find a way to do it, just as we did this fall.
In closing, know that this was not a decision made lightly, easily, or alone. However, I truly do believe it is the right one. I cannot thank you enough for your continued support, patience and partnership during this very difficult time. When this is over (it will be over someday), and our world returns to the “pre-Covid, old normal” days, we will look back on this and remember how we persevered together as a community. In the meantime, let us start the hard work of taking a brief pivot to remote learning while working on a return sooner rather than later.
As always, please call me with any questions, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!