SPRINGFIELD, IL — District officials across Illinois are determining what COVID-19 mitigations to put in place after the CDC updated its guidance for schools.
The CDC guidance says unvaccinated students should wear masks. To reflect that, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education updated guidance.
“All our students deserve to return safely in-person to schools this fall,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala. “With vaccination rates continually rising and unprecedented federal funding to support safe in-person learning, and mitigations such as contact tracing and increased ventilation in place in schools, we are fully confident in the safety of in-person learning this fall. We look forward to a great school year and to the energy of Illinois’ young minds once again filling our school buildings.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines say masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. They also recommend continued social distancing of 3 feet.
In Springfield, school Superintendent Jennifer Gill expects masks for children under 12, but she said it will be difficult to enforce masking in other grades.
Gill said there are ways to check a database of who got the vaccine through the state-run Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange, or I-CARE. But that’s only accessible by medical professionals.
“How do you in a hallway of students tell who’s vaccinated and who’s now, and who’s wearing their mask and who’s not not, that’s very hard to police and very hard to ask of our teachers and our administrators to check on that each and every day,” Gill told WMAY.
Springfield is asking parents to share their student’s vaccine status in case there’s an exposure. Vaccinated students won’t have to quarantine while those who aren’t would.
“I … feel very strongly that discriminating medically whether someone has been vaccinated or not vaccinated, whether they have antibodies or not is completely inappropriate,” said Marsha McClary of the group Illinois Parents Union.
Gill expects masks for elementary children too young to get the vaccine in Springfield schools. But elsewhere, enforcement could be problematic.
“It is not a mandated vaccine, so with that being said, there really can’t be any discipline toward that end,” Gill said.
In the announced updated guidance, the IDPH website said “Schools and communities should monitor community transmission of COVID-19, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and outbreaks to guide decisions about on the level of layered prevention strategies being implemented.”
State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, interprets the CDC guidance as giving local control by saying local officials can layer mitigation how they best see fit.
“So what we have to do now is we have to have our voices heard at these school board meetings,” Niemerg said. “Present your argument. Have these discussions with your administrators.”
Niemerg has legislation at the statehouse to prohibit mask mandates in schools. He said if parents don’t like the mask mandate, they need to hold their local elected officials accountable.
“If these school boards will not lift the mask requirements as you want these mask requirements lifted the same as I do, you have the opportunity to have your voices heard at the ballot box,” Niemerg said. “Don’t forget that.”