Safeguard Statement

Statement Regarding Wilmette’s Safeguard Program and Recent News Articles
Posted on 04/01/2021

The Wilmette Public Schools' Safeguard Program provides an additional layer of mitigation to help maintain a healthy and safe in-person school environment when community spread of Covid-19 may be high. This program helps to further mitigate the risk of exposure within schools, to identify and isolate Covid-19 cases, to reduce the need for quarantines, and to maintain a healthy school environment. The program uses an internationally recognized RT-Lamp process adapted by SafeGuard Surveillance which has correctly identified hundreds of Covid-19 cases that were later confirmed by lab testing at the numerous schools that use this particular screening method. Prior to the district’s launch of the program, the Wilmette Public Schools reviewed implementation of the program with the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH), and has operated its program in accordance with the guidance provided by the CCDPH throughout its implementation. Since the program was initiated in District 39 in January, nine cases have been referred for diagnostic PCR testing to evaluate for Covid-19. Six of these cases were confirmed with a Covid-19 diagnosis. This identification helped protect the school as well as the individuals’ family, friends, and the greater community.

District 39, along with several of the other school districts implementing Safeguard, were disappointed to learn of a recent New York Times article regarding the program. The article contains inaccuracies and omits several important points about the program, including how the program has been authorized to operate under guidance from the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the fact that it has successfully identified hundreds of cases of COVID-19. Letters from government officials that oversee screening regulation confirm the program’s lawful operation. An IDPH spokesperson provided further clarification through its statement that, “In March, IDPH received two anonymous complaints to our Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) program. CMS reviewed the complaints and did not recommend an investigation. SafeGuard has since received a CLIA Certificate. Per CMS/CLIA, at this time, there is no further recommended action."

With the aim of strengthening the health and safety of in-person instruction, the Safeguard program implemented during periods of substantial community spread and/or transitional periods back to school after an extended break has further enhanced mitigation efforts of the district. Since January, the Safeguard program has provided weekly screening for students and staff registered for the program and participating in the in-person instructional models of the district. The screening experience data of District 39 have been evaluated in an ongoing way through monthly reviews by the Testing Subcommittee of the Metrics Reopening Advisory Team, with regular updates to the Board of Education to inform and design the ongoing testing schedules, protocol and plans for the district. The District 39 SafeGuard Program is scheduled to extend through the end of April. The next District 39 collection date for SafeGuard will be Monday, April 5.

The district’s Safeguard program is one mitigation factor among many the district uses to support its school reopening plan and the safety of in-person instruction. In-person students must also submit daily health screening certifications, which include symptom checks, temperature checks, and a review of travel quarantine restrictions and potential Covid-19 exposure. Those precautions exclude students from in-person learning if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have engaged in an activity that puts them at risk of COVID-19. In addition, the district continues to expand its partnerships throughout the community to ensure that diagnostic Covid-19 PCR testing is available to students and staff who may be experiencing symptoms, exposure or require further evaluation for Covid-19. The state has also imposed other requirements for in-person learning, such as mask wearing and distancing, to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission at school. As a result of all of these measures - as well as others in place in the Wilmette Public Schools such as homeroom learning pods - the risk of in-school transmission is very low.

District 39 continues to remain vigilant in its effort to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment and is committed to doing all it can to safely continue in-person learning opportunities for its students. We are grateful to our parents, teachers, staff members and students for their strong support and efforts in helping to maintain a safe educational environment for all.

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