Is masking required in schools?

Ann Gill

Unit 1 to discuss health guidance at special meeting

Will students have to wear masks this August when they return to Coal City schools?
School officials got a partial answer from the state but it’s looking like it may be up to Coal City Unit 1 to make its own decision.
School superintendents from across the state have been waiting for guidance from the state superintendent of education.
Unit 1 Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg reached out to the state superintendent asking for updated guidance as soon as possible. He also advocated for local control in determining district health mitigations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for K-12 schools stating that, “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals [age 2 and older] who are not fully vaccinated.”
Vaccination is recommended and currently available to individuals ages 12 and older. That means a large portion of the district’s students could still be masked during the school day.
“Although the guidance is extremely vague it has raised many questions from school superintendents across the state. But after reading the guidance closely, I believe it does allow for some local control over decisions regarding COVID mitigations,” Bugg said.
In a follow up message to school leaders addressing the question whether or not Illinois schools are mandated to require masks for unvaccinated students and staff, Bugg said the Illinois State Board of Education’s response pointed toward local control.
The guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools was outlined in a 16-page document released by the CDC late last week.
In addition to its recommendation for the unvaccinated to be masked indoors, the CDC guidance was, “updated to emphasize the need for localities to monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the local level of layered prevention strategies.”
The guidance states all students are to be masked when on a school bus, and it sets social distancing requirements at a minimum of 3 feet, when possible.
In general, the agency says people do not need to be masked when outdoors.
“Our goal is to protect the health of students, teachers and staff so that in-person learning can resume as safely as possible,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said
“As school board members, parents, teachers and superintendents plan for a return to in-person learning in the fall, we strongly encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to mask. IDPH is proud to fully adopt school guidance issued by CDC, which is based on the latest scientific information about COVID-19,” she said.
In a detailed review of the guidance, Bugg has pointed out several areas where it appears local school board’s will be able to exercise control in their mitigation decisions.
With just 4.5 weeks remaining before students and staff return to class, the Board of Education has called for a special study session meeting specifically to address the issue. The meeting is set for 6 p.m., Monday, July 19 in the meeting room of the district’s Administrative Center on Carbon Hill Road.
Bugg has said he would like to try and develop common guidelines across the county so there are not vast differences between the various school districts.
ISBE previously announced schools would be required to return to in-person learning this fall. Remote learning is no longer an option. The only exception is when a student is placed in quarantine by the state or local health department.
“All our students deserve to return safely in-person to schools this fall,” said State Superintendent Dr. Carmen I Ayala.
“With vaccination rates continually rising and unprecedented federal funding to support safe in-person learning, and mitigations such as contact tracing and increase ventilation in place in schools, we are fully confident in the safety of in-person learning this fall,” she said.
Bugg said the Board of Education has a lot to consider as it prepares to move into a new academic year.
It appears the Board could have some input on the level of masking in its buildings. The discussion begins on Monday.