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After More Than 400 Exposed To COVID At Lane Tech, Some Question Safety, District’s Notification Process

"I really just need to know real-time information at my kids' individual schools," one Lane parent said.

Lane Tech College Prep seen at sunset in December 2019.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH CENTER — Hundreds of people have been exposed to coronavirus at Chicago’s biggest public high school after two people tested positive, and parents say they’re worried about more kids getting sick and how long it took the district to inform families. 

The two people tested positive within the first few days of school, district data shows, and 408 people were identified as having prolonged contact with those people while they were contagious. Lane Tech, 2501 W. Addison St., serves 4,391 students, according to district data.

The district requires people who have been exposed to quarantine for two weeks if they are unvaccinated. A district spokeswoman said 98 people were out late last week after accounting for vaccinated people.

Some parents said they were concerned they weren’t notified about the COVID cases and potential exposure for several days.

Lane parents received an email from the school Sept. 7 explaining the district’s COVID-19 protocols and asking them to upload their children’s proof of vaccination if they hadn’t already. That email also said students required to quarantine will be contacted directly on how to access remote learning. 

The district’s COVID-19 portal tracking confirmed cases and close contacts was not updated until Sept. 8.

On Sept. 9, the school sent another email to Lane parents notifying them that “a person who was in our school building on Sept. 1-3 tested positive for COVID-19.”

Then on Sunday night, CPS sent an email informing parents that another “person who was in our school building on [Sept. 2-3] tested positive for COVID-19.”

Lynn Ankney, who has a junior at Lane and a 7th grader, said she felt Sunday night was “pretty late” to notify parents. She said she wasn’t aware of the district’s data portal and normally relies on her children and school emails for important updates.

“It’s great if CPS has this tool to look across the district, and I’m sure that’s important information for someone,” Ankney said. “But from a parent’s perspective, from a household perspective, I really just need to know real-time information at my kids’ individual schools.”

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Chicago Teachers Union and CPS officials have been at odds about in-person learning with the spread of the Delta variant. Union leaders have tweeted photos of students crowding in school hallways, and pushed for more masking, social distancing, testing and contact tracing measures.

Other high schools also have had dozens of people exposed, including Englewood STEM, Washington and Senn.

Rachel Lessem, said her daughter described kids being elbow-to-elbow during passing periods, and classrooms at full capacity with at least 30 teenagers. She said the school should implement staggered passing periods to reduce the number of people in hallways, and the CTA should increase service during pick ups and drops offs, saying the Western Avenue buses “are packed like sardines.”

Lessem also has a 5th grader who is unvaccinated because she is too young, and worries about her older child being exposed to COVID-19 while on campus and bringing a breakthrough infection home, even though that is relatively rare.

RELATED: Vaccinated Chicagoans Have 1-In-10,000 Chance Of Getting Breakthrough COVID Case: Analysis

“Ironically, neither of my children did hybrid learning in the spring because it didn’t feel safe to us as a family,” Lessem said. “Now, seeing the way things are it would have been far safer to send them in the spring. But now we don’t have a choice, like it’s all or nothing.”

Lessem says she’s “walking on eggshells” and thinks it’s only a matter of time before Lane sends her an email identifying her daughter as being in close contact with someone who had COVID-19.

“Because any kid who gets it is bringing it to the rest of the school population,” Lessem said. “You have eight periods in a day. And every period you’re seeing 30 new kids. It’s just unsustainable to think that we’re not going to have it spread. I hope I’m wrong.”

Ankney said she’s not too worried about her family’s risk because everyone in her household is vaccinated.

“The positives of them being back in person far outweigh the very remote chance that my kids would get severely ill because they’re vaccinated,” Ankney said. “I’m sure if we were a family that had mixed ages, with someone who hasn’t been vaccinated, I would feel differently. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’m really trusting the science.”

CTU officials say what is happening at Lane is not surprising, and the way CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has released COVID-19 data is confusing and, at times, inaccurate.

“The reality is we don’t know what is going on at Lane Tech because CPS will not share the data that tells us that,” CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said. “It’s outrageous we have to rely on self-reporting to try to figure out if there is COVID at a school when we’ve seen photo after photo of massive overcrowding in hallways. That puts people at unnecessary risk of harm.”

Raise Your Hand for Illinois, an education advocacy group, petitioned CPS for a virtual learning option before the school year began because of families’ concerns about children returning to in-person learning during the pandemic. The group’s petition had more than 6,000 signatures. 

“This is not just about Lane Tech. That school has big numbers for exposures because it’s a big school. But we’re having COVID-19 exposures at many other CPS schools and students being sent home regularly,” said Rousemary Vega, Raise Your Hand’s parent organizer. “This is something that was expected and why we put this petition together.”

Some parents also are keeping their children home in protest of CPS not offering remote learning options as it did last year. Protesters from the #CPSSickOut movement plan to rally near Lightfoot’s home in Logan Square Monday evening, according to the Facebook event.

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