Dear District 97 Staff and Families,
Late last night, the Appellate Court in Springfield dismissed an appeal from Gov. JB Pritzker against the temporary restraining order (TRO) that temporarily prohibited him from enforcing executive orders and emergency rules for certain COVID-19 safety mitigations in schools. The court’s decision was based on a ruling earlier this week from the Illinois Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), which found emergency rules previously issued from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to be null and void.
However, the court also stated in its ruling that districts are not restrained from acting independently from the executive orders or IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19.
Prior to this ruling, the administration had been in the process of reviewing the district’s current safety plans and discussing the criteria that will determine when mitigations may be eased or removed. Based on current metrics, we were already planning to lift outdoor masking requirements beginning next week (details included below). After reviewing the latest court ruling with legal counsel, we will no longer be excluding asymptomatic, unvaccinated students or staff who are identified as close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case. Students and staff who are symptomatic or test positive for COVID-19 will continue to follow our previous exclusion procedures.
All other COVID-19 safety mitigations, including mandatory indoor masking, will remain in place until the District 97 Board of Education and administration have the opportunity to consider updated guidance from legal counsel.
Details about previously planned mitigation changes are outlined below.
Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 22, face masks will be optional outdoors at all District 97 schools. This decision was based on decreasing COVID-19 cases in our district and the Oak Park community and the fact that the risk of transmission outdoors is extremely low.
Masks continue to be required indoors, except when eating or drinking. Individuals should continue to maintain physical distance to the greatest extent possible when outdoors and unmasked, especially during arrival, dismissal, recess and other extracurricular activities.
Those who feel more comfortable wearing a mask outdoors are encouraged to do so. We would be grateful if families would please assist us by stressing the need for ongoing kindness, respect, and understanding about others’ choices when discussing this change at home.
We have also been reviewing our current procedures for lunch. At this point, it is not an expectation that students are completely silent while they are eating. However, in order to reduce the risk of aerosol spread, the local health department has advised that students should continue to focus on eating and limit loud talking as much as possible while unmasked. We will continue to utilize videos and/or activities during lunch to assist with this effort. Talking is always permitted while students are masked.
Our primary focus continues to be the well-being of our students and staff. Our layered mitigations have proven successful in keeping our buildings and community safe, and we are committed to taking a thoughtful, science-based approach as we consider any changes to our protocols moving forward.
We will continue to keep you updated as we navigate this next phase of the pandemic together. Thank you for your continued support.
Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet