Gambling with students’ lives: Board would set dangerous precedent by raising positivity rate metric


Luc Alvarez

At Jan. 16’s special board meeting, board members will vote on whether to raise the positivity rate metric for opening school from 9% to 10% — something Thiele said he felt would risk the health of students just days ago.

“If I felt like we could set the [the positivity rate metric] at 10% and we keep kids safe based on what we know, I would’ve [recommended to the] board 10%, but I didn’t because 9% is where I’m confident and our administrative team is confident that we can keep kids safe,” Superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele said at Jan. 11’s District 99 Board meeting.

Despite this statement by Thiele, District 99 announced just three days later that they would be scheduling a special vote to potentially change the metric for deciding whether to bring kids into school from a positivity rate of 9% or less to 10% on Jan. 16. The board should vote no on this measure in order to protect the safety of the District 99 community and avoid setting a dangerous precedent that the board can change safety metrics at will without new guidance from the CDC or the DuPage County Health Department.

The second semester hybrid plan is already significantly more aggressive than first semester’s based on both class time and metrics used to determine whether students will be hybrid or remote. Increasing the aggressiveness of this plan by loosening the metric used to decide whether students will be in school even as the district’s superintendent, the man with probably the most insight into the district’s planning in consultation with local and state health departments, only adds to the potentially lethal risk that students are facing when they enter schools.

If our own superintendent isn’t confident that students will be safe when they go to school, how can the district community feel safe sending students to school?

Not only would this decision increase the risk to the students and staff of District 99, it sets a dangerous precedent that the metrics used to determine the safety to return to school are just arbitrary numbers that can be changed at will. As was brought up repeatedly in Jan. 11’s board meeting, if the school board is willing to go against the superintendent’s recommendation in consultation with local health departments this time, DGS families have no reason to trust that the school board won’t continue to risk the safety of the District 99 community at large.

With the risks in mind, it’s important to note what we’re choosing between when deciding whether to push for hybrid over remote.

In conversations with students, the general consensus about hybrid learning is that in-person instruction is marginally better than fully remote classes while learning remotely during hybrid is significantly worse. As teachers’ attention is naturally drawn to the in-person learners in front of them, remote students have reported feeling neglected; compounded with this is the problem of newly installed webcams having poor video and audio quality alienating remote students from in-person discussions as well as demonstrations on white boards.

In conversations with teachers, many report feeling exhausted as they’re being forced to do something they were never taught how to do in teaching to two separate groups simultaneously. To make matters worse is how little notice the school board will be giving teachers to respond if they do choose to approve this measure. In 72 hours, teachers will be forced to replan an entire week of classes yet again as they attempt to come up with lessons that are able to be taught to in-person and remote students simultaneously.

It should also be noted that only 55% of DGS students have opted in for hybrid learning and that students requiring the most help would be in the building as part of a cohort regardless of the board’s decision.

At Jan. 11’s board meeting, Thiele also said, ”I’m not willing to gamble with people’s health, and possibly even their lives, that we can maintain [in-person schooling with a positivity rate over 9%] and keep people safe.”

For the sake of the students, staff and community of District 99, let’s hope the school board agrees.