RANTOUL — Several area school districts are coping with an uptick in illness, much of it related to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Several districts have called off classes at the end of this week. All area public schools will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.
In Arcola, classes are canceled district-wide today and Monday, while in Rantoul, closures have hit two elementary schools and the pre-kindergarten program.
In Danville, Schlarman Academy has called off classes today due to a variety of illnesses, not all COVID-19-related, and the Danville school district is switching to fully remote learning today.
Other schools that responded to an email query are keeping a close watch on numbers of students and staff members affected by illness.
Arcola officials said they canceled classes today because of the number of students and staff in quarantine. All sporting events on those days except girls’ basketball are also expected to be canceled.
Superintendent Tom Mulligan cited the omicron variant.
“We’re over 20 percent of our students out quarantined and excluded, but we’ve also had a significant number of positive cases,” he said. “So you’re balancing staff and the number of students out, and you don’t want to run out of rapid tests because that’s such a critical component to stay in school.”
Mulligan said he has been told the variant cases will spike, then “go down significantly.”
“We’ll take a couple of days and knock down sports practices and hopefully get things under control,” Mulligan said. “When you look at emergency days with the shorter quarantine period, you’re hoping you can get a number of our people back. It also goes to the quality of education.”
Mulligan said the district will make up the two lost days in May.
He said he has been told the variant’s symptoms are not as severe as previous variants, but it is more contagious.
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have been adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education, call for a five-day quarantine period from the onset of symptoms or a positive test.
Rantoul City Schools Superintendent Scott Woods said the pre-kindergarten housed at Pleasant Acres Elementary has been closed all week, while Broadmeadow Elementary was closed Thursday and will be closed today, and Northview Elementary will be closed today.
All plan to reopen Tuesday.
Woods said his district has seen a significant uptick in cases since returning to school Jan. 4.
“We have administered 419 COVID tests and have identified 85 positive students or staff,” Woods said, noting those numbers don’t include those who test outside the district.
He said the state will not allow his district to switch to remote learning as a whole, but switching to remote learning at specific schools would be allowed.
J.W. Eater Junior High and Pleasant Acres and Eastlawn elementary schools will hold classes as usual today.
At Schlarman Academy, a letter sent to parents by administrators said the decision not to hold class today is due to various types of illness, “much of which is not even related to COVID.”
“We have students and staff that are testing positive for influenza A and B, strep, sinus infections, etc.,” the letter said.
More than 90 students and three staff members at the high school and grade school were absent Thursday. It said most of the students are out because they were exposed to COVID-19 through a family member.
At other area districts:
Danville Superintendent Alicia Geddis said while all learning will be remote today, extracurricular activities will proceed, using masks and social distancing, and food-pickup sites will be announced as soon as possible. Geddis said school officials hope in-person learning will resume Tuesday.
Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsey Hall said there have been “a higher-than-normal number of absences” in recent days due to illness.
“Last Friday, we had 54 staff members gone,” she said, but the schools were able to remain open with substitutes, staff members who helped internally and, in some cases, by dividing up classes.
Hall said the number of people out has steadily declined this week.
“We’re making it,” she said. “We’ve been able to weather the storm. We’re still going, and it’s just a new set of challenges.”
Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said the district is “grinding.”
“We have seen an uptick in cases but manageable so far,” he said. “It feels like we are better this week than last week to me, based on teacher/student attendance.”
He said staffing is the biggest concern. For the school year, as of last Friday, virus-related issues have caused 495 total days missed for students and 58 for employees.
Blue Ridge Superintendent Hillary Stanifer said there have been 65 positive student cases and 12 positive staff cases since the return to classes this month, although she is not able to say which variants are causing them.
“We are struggling to keep our buildings, kitchens and buses staffed,” Stanifer said. “Our staff is on alert, knowing that we may need to have students learn from home with not much more than a moment’s notice.”
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond Superintendent Shannon Cheek said the district is “being hit like everyone else in the area” with a significant uptick in positive cases and quarantines due to close-contact protocols.
“We are remaining in-person right now, but as you are aware that can change at the drop of a hat,” Cheek said.
Villa Grove Superintendent Carol Munson said the district is “faring pretty well, especially in comparison to some other districts.”
She said Villa Grove isn’t close to the level needed to close the school or to implement an adaptive pause.
“Currently, we are planning mitigations and interventions that coincide with the updated guidance released from" the state, she said. "We will continue to do everything we can to sustain in-person instruction.”
Bement Superintendent Sheila Greenwood said schools there “are managing so far and still working hard to maintain the safety guidelines.”
“I feel for some of my colleagues, because there just simply aren’t subs out there to help out when staff are sick,” she said.
Tuscola Superintendent Gary Alexander said there has been a slight increase in quarantine cases, “but not enough to consider an adaptive pause or use of an emergency day.”