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Sick CPS students ‘will be sent home immediately,’ district says, as coronavirus fears spread

A CPS spokeswoman said the district is sending schools more soap and hand sanitizer this week to stay prepared.

CPS students at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.
CPS sent a letter to parents outlining precautions being taking in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials on Wednesday sent a letter to families and staff laying out preventive measures being taken in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak — and emphasizing that “students who are sick will be sent home immediately.”

With only six cases so far in the Chicago area, CPS isn’t considering closing schools at this point, the district said. But officials nonetheless are preparing for any potential outbreaks with the help of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

CPS Chief Health Officer Kenneth Fox and CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady urged staff or students who have traveled anywhere that has experienced an outbreak to stay home for 14 days after they return.

Anyone who’s sick should call a doctor and stay home from school, and student absences will be marked excused, Fox and Arwady said in the letter. If a student goes to school sick, their parent or guardian will be called immediately to schedule a pick-up.

Perfect attendance awards discouraged

Meanwhile, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says school districts should “review attendance and sick leave policies” and “discourage the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives.”

CPS teachers and parents have said on social media this week that several schools in the district haven’t followed that advice. At CPS’ Blaine Elementary, for example, administrators posted a letter last week announcing a “March Madness” attendance incentive program.

”That’s right, beginning next week, students, staff, and classrooms will go head to head in an effort to achieve 100% attendance at school,” a school newsletter said. “Students and staff will participate for an opportunity to earn a field experience for their class or a gift card individually.”

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district has since sent out guidance discouraging principals from allowing attendance competitions at their schools.

On Monday, Blaine sent out another notice saying that while 100 percent attendance was still the goal, kids shouldn’t come to school if they are sick.

The CPS letter sent home Wednesday did note that “children seem to be less likely to become ill,” but it still encouraged good hygiene: Everyone should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, avoid close contact with anyone who’s sick and cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw out that tissue and wash their hands.

CPS also reminded school communities not to engage in racist or discriminatory behavior, and that “stigma and discrimination against the afflicted discourages early reporting of symptoms and further perpetuates community spread.”

Bolton said the district is sending schools more soap and hand sanitizer this week to stay prepared.

At one CPS school, Bell Elementary in North Center, principal Katie Miller told families in an email that the school will hang up signs in every bathroom reminding students and staff to wash their hands.

CPS officials couldn’t immediately say whether they had seen a decrease in attendance in recent weeks due to virus fears.

Meanwhile in the suburbs and beyond, officials at School District U-46 in Elgin, the second largest in the state, are monitoring attendance but haven’t yet seen any major dips, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

The district, which serves families in Kane, DuPage and Cook counties, is working with the public health departments in all three counties to stay prepared for a potential spread of communicable diseases, following its usual plan for those types of outbreaks.

In Oak Park Elementary School District 97, principals told staff in emails Wednesday morning that students who are called in sick by parents will be asked to provide more details, including whether they have flu-like symptoms.

Todd Fitzgerald, the principal at Julian Middle School, urged staff to stay home if they or a family member feel sick or have flu symptoms. Fitzgerald said in the email that staff would continue routine cleaning and disinfecting of the school.