BLOOMINGTON — The mask requirement for schools was lifted Friday, but many Central Illinois school districts are still weighing options.
“It’s going to take us a little bit of time to work through,” said Barry Reilly, superintendent at Bloomington District 87.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance for schools on Friday to indicate staff and students who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks inside school buildings. The Illinois Department of Public Health adopted these guidelines as well and echoed the CDC’s emphasis on the importance of vaccinations.
“The CDC is right: vaccination is the best preventive strategy,” said IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike. “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.”
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The guidance for COVID-19 prevention also states those who are not vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors, but people do not need to wear them outdoors.
The CDC also recommends “layered prevention strategies,” which include maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in classrooms, testing, ventilation, frequent handwashing, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, staying home when sick and other measures.
Officials are closely watching cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant. Additionally, COVID outbreaks also have been reported at several summer camps, including one in Illinois. Overall, new confirmed cases has increased more than 60% over the past two weeks, from an average of about 12,000 a day to around 19,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The administrative team and school board leadership at District 87 will be working on their plans in the next week or so, which aligns with the district’s closest neighbor, McLean County Unit 5.
A spokesperson for Unit 5 said they were pleased to receive the updated guidance, “but we still have several questions that need to be addressed.”
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Superintendent Kristen Weikle and the board will be reviewing the CDC recommendations in order to share information with parents and staff members as soon as possible.
Laura O’Donnell, superintendent at Olympia schools, said the administration has not yet determined how the updated guidance will be applied.
“We need time to study the recommendations and then discuss as a board,” she said. The next school board meeting is July 26.
The Catholic schools in the McLean County area await direction from the Diocese of Peoria Office of Catholic Schools, said Sean Foster, principal at Central Catholic.
Though no action has been taken, Lisa Taylor, superintendent at Heyworth, said she will be making a recommendation to the school board at a special meeting on July 21, “that we make masks optional for students and staff and that we respect everyone’s choices.”
Per her recommendation, masks would be optional for all, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.
“We’re looking forward to having as normal a school year as possible, … and we will continue to prioritize students and staff safety and health,” Taylor said, noting she appreciates that this updated guidance offers districts more flexibility and local control.
Taylor said the schools will continue their clean and disinfecting practices and have hand sanitizer available.
Photos: Surviving COVID in central Illinois Schools
The end of school, for now
Supplying schoolchildren’s needs
The lost year
Congrats Kristin and Matthew
The contents of their desks
Meals for home
Cooks of mercy
Dressing for success
Wear a mask!
Back to school, back to school …
Getting equipped for school
Won’t miss a note
Another kind of test
Fashion for the times
Creating art with BCAI
Back to class, for a while
Learning goes on
Back to school
A new world
Looking for a few good drivers
Holding down the fort
One last test
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.
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