Students and staff of Vaughn Occupational High School — as well as any visitors since late February — have been advised to quarantine themselves at home for nearly two weeks after a case of coronavirus was reported in a staff member on Friday.
A special education classroom assistant at the Portage Park neighborhood high school tested positive for the virus after returning from a cruise and worked at the school for a week before the case was confirmed, city and state officials previously announced.
In a letter sent to families and employees on Saturday that was shared with the Chicago Sun-Times, school officials called the case an “isolated incident” but advised people to take precautions to prevent spreading the virus.
“At the moment, the confirmed case involving a classroom assistant at Vaughn Occupational High School remains and isolated incident and public health officials believe the immediate health risk to the general public and the broader CPS community remains low,” school officials said in the letter.
The classroom assistant, a Chicago woman in her 50s who was a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship last month, is the sixth confirmed case of Coronavirus in Illinois.
The district reiterated that Vaughn, which specializes in special education and enrolls 212 students, would be closed all next week. Anyone who has visited the school since Feb. 25 was also advised to self-quarantine at home through March 18.
However, these restrictions only apply to those who have been at Vaughn in the last week and a half, the district said. People who share a household with, have come into contact with or shared a bus with Vaughn community members can still leave home.
By Saturday afternoon, the district had also started a “thorough cleaning” of the school and of all buses serving its students, according to the district. High-traffic areas in all district schools will also be cleaned.
The Chicago Department of Public Health had also started coronavirus testing on any Vaughn students or staff who were experiencing symptoms, according to CPS. The department would be contacting all students, faculty and staff through the weekend to schedule testing if needed.
“Our top priority is the health and safety of CPS students and staff, and we will continue to follow the guidance of local, state and federal health officials in this evolving situation,” officials said.
Cindy Ok, the chair of Vaughn’s Local School Council, said she was worried about the impact on families.
“A lot of our parents are immigrants or they live at or below the poverty level, so they’re being forced to stay at home to look after their kids,” Ok said. “I don’t know if they have enough resources to take off work, so I’m trying to find them support.”
Ok said several people have reached out to help, including state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago), whose office offered to deliver food and educational games to families during Vaughn’s closure.
LaPointe, an advocate for people with special needs, said students with special needs can be more vulnerable to the coronavirus and the disruptions it could cause, but she wants families to know they can reach out for help.
“It’s a matter of making sure people have their basic needs met, but also caring for kids who would otherwise be in an educational environment learning,” LaPointe said.
CPS told families district-wide that there are no plans to close any other schools, but schools were advised to cancel any international travel plans.
Principal Anna Pavichevich at Amundsen High School in Ravenswood said she had been struggling with whether to postpone her school’s planned trips to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but felt more comfortable doing so after receiving the district’s guidance.
One CPS mother, who asked not to be identified because she also teaches in the district, said she had to cancel on an exchange student from Spain who was arriving in two weeks.
The mother said she and her eighth-grade son, who was going to fly out to Spain at the end of March, were both disappointed, but also concerned about the spread of coronavirus.
“I see this spiderweb of connections to Vaughn with kids who may have siblings in other schools, buses that it shares or students and staff carrying the virus and going out on the CTA,” she said. “CPS is a very interconnected district.”