St. Rita of Cascia High School on the Southwest Side made it only a few days before it was forced to temporarily shift classes online after two students tested positive for the coronavirus.
After classes started Monday, St. Rita administrators sent an email Thursday informing families that two students had contracted the contagious respiratory virus, and several others had been in close contact with them outside of school.
School officials said they don’t think the virus was contracted on campus and that exposure would’ve been minimal due to the safety precautions set in place. They’ll revert to e-learning until at least Sept. 8.
“As we move on we will continue to adjust to make this the safest and most productive experience possible,” officials said in the email. “Our teachers have worked hard throughout the summer to improve the quality of our remote learning.”
St. Rita is thought to be the first Catholic school in Chicago to switch solely to online learning.
Representatives for the Archdiocese of Chicago and St. Rita couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday.
Earlier this month, the archdiocese announced it was sticking with its plan to return to classrooms despite Chicago Public Schools’ decision to start the school year with remote learning — and over the protests of many teachers opposed to coming back in the middle of the pandemic.
Though the archdiocese has called in-person learning “essential,” it also has offered remote and online learning for students who are unable to return or whose parents are unwilling to send them back to the classroom.
In line with the archdiocese’s reopening plan, St. Rita required masks and temperature checks, and classrooms were also spread out to ensure social distancing.
Yolanda Meza, whose son is a sophomore at St. Rita, said she was heartbroken to hear about a student testing positive “because I know they had put so much thought and effort into their plan to make sure everybody would be safe.”
Meza’s son started the school year online because it was “a safer route for our family,” Meza said.
“When the survey came around about what your preference would be, he was very clear he wanted to do online,” said Meza, who has a medical condition that puts her at a higher risk for contracting the virus. “I asked him about his friends, and he mentioned one, they’ve been friends forever, and he’s like, ‘He definitely wants to go back to the building, he does not like online whatsoever.’”
Meza said she was “absolutely” nervous about students returning to the classroom. However, she commended the school for its communication over the summer when it was formulating its plans. She also praised school officials for their transparency over the past week.
Meza has also been impressed with St. Rita’s e-learning curriculum.
“It seems like [the teachers have] planned well for both in-person and online learners,” said Meza, of the West Lawn neighborhood. “There seems to be a good mix for independent study, work, interaction with your classmates and the teacher.”