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St. Benedict Moves Junior High Classes Online After Teacher Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Classes began last week at the North Center school. The sickened teacher told school officials and parents Saturday she tested positive for coronavirus.

A St. Benedict Prep staffer sprays a student with hand sanitizer on August 24.
St. Benedict Preparatory School
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NORTH CENTER — St. Benedict Preparatory School in North Center has stopped some in-person classes after a teacher tested positive for coronavirus a few days after school started for the fall, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The school was notified by a sixth grade teacher she had tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday and sent an email notifying parents the same day, according to Archdiocese communications director Manny Gonzales. Classes began Aug. 24 and serves about 700 students from kindergarten through 8th grade.

All Archdiocese of Chicago schools are grouping students and teachers into cohorts based on their homerooms. The aim is to have the students and school staff in their own bubbles which limits interaction between groups, according to the school’s reopening plan

The model is supposed to allow a smaller group of students to be quarantined in the event of infection in order to allow the rest of the school to stay open, but the school will require all 6th, 7th and 8th graders to learn from home starting Wednesday.

The last time the teacher was at the campus at 3900 N. Leavitt St. was Aug. 25. The group of junior high students who were exposed to the teacher will be quarantined at home for at least 14 days from the last date they interacted with her, Gonzales said.

Those students switched to online classes Monday and parents were advised to get them tested for the virus within five to nine days of the last interaction they had with the positive teacher, Gonzales said.

“We’re trying to err on the side of caution. We want to respond strongly which is why we’re moving the rest of the junior high cohorts to remote learning,” Gonzales said. “One of the lessons I think everyone has learned about this virus is that it’s better to overreact in order to get control of it.” 

St. Benedict tentatively will resume in-person junior high classes Sept. 9, 14 days after their last exposure to the teacher, Gonzales said. The school is continuing in-person classes for the other grade levels for the time being, Gonzales said. 

“The parents of the students in other cohorts who didn’t interact with this teacher are also being advised to keep an eye on their kids for any symptoms that might pop up, but we don’t think testing them is necessary at this time,” Gonzales said.

In addition to grouping together students and teachers to minimize unnecessary interactions, Principal Rachel Gemo said students also are eating socially distant lunches on a sidewalk next to the school.

“When they have their masks off they sit six feet apart in their cohorts and then each cohort is separated by 30 feet. We will do this on nice days as long as we’re here and if have to eat indoors we’ll have another plan as well,” Gemo said in a video posted Thursday to the school’s Facebook page.

Other safety precautions of the in-person schooling plan include requiring anyone in school buildings to wear a mask covering the mouth and nose at all times unless they are younger than two years of age or are eating. Students and staff must practice social distancing while eating. 

Students can only use specific entrances where staff can conduct temperature checks with contactless thermometers, ensure students are properly wearing masks and give the students hand sanitizer. 

Another Catholic school, St. Alexander School in Palos Heights, also halted in-person classes after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus, according to WGN.

Parents who opt for in-person learning are also being asked to sign a waiver agreeing to the guidelines and relinquishing any potential legal action, according to ABC7.

Earlier this month group of teachers and parents at Archdiocese schools said they were frustrated with the current reopening plan complaining that the current setup doesn’t include enough social distancing or proper PPE, according to WGN

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