Dear District 97 Families,
As we previously shared, all District 97 schools will move to an environment that recommends, but does not require, mask wearing in school buildings beginning March 17, 2022.
District and building leadership teams have been planning and preparing for this change throughout the week. This included collaborating with our climate and culture coaches to create lesson plans for students, ensuring that plans and resources are in place for students and staff who are immunocompromised, meeting with teachers and support staff to address their concerns and prepare them for classroom conversations on masks, and compiling resources to share with families.
We want to share as much information as possible with you now in order to help you and your student(s) prepare for this transition. In the coming days, principals will be engaging with their students, staff and families to communicate information that may be specific to their buildings. We will continue to provide regular updates about the district’s COVID-19 mitigations via email and will maintain an FAQ for common questions that arise.
Masks Recommended, Not Required - March 17
Beginning Thursday, March 17, the decision to wear a mask at school will be at the discretion of each family. On that date, masks will become recommended, not required, in all District 97 schools, the administration building, and school buses. This change also applies to after-school activities and events. Click here for an FAQ that addresses masking protocols.
Please be aware of three important points as we make this transition:
Schools will not segregate or seat students based on mask use or vaccination status.
Beyond reminding students to follow their family’s wishes, teachers and staff will not track parent wishes or monitor mask use of students.
Our COVID-19 testing partner, SHIELD Illinois, will continue to require masks in testing areas, since collection sites are technically considered healthcare facilities. This means that students participating in weekly SHIELD testing will be required to wear masks in the collection area only. The district will have disposable masks available, however, we encourage families to make sure that their students bring their own masks on their designated testing days.
District 97 recently provided staff and students with high-quality KN95 masks, and we will continue to have a large supply available for those who would like them. Surgical masks will be available throughout the buildings as well.
Supporting Immunocompromised Individuals
As we begin to ease COVID-19 mitigations in our schools, we are especially mindful of our students, staff and families who are immunocompromised or at greater risk for severe illness. As always, if you have any concerns about your child’s medical condition, please reach out to your school nurse.
The district’s safety plan will continue to include several important layers of protection, including weekly SHIELD testing, proper ventilation, social distancing, daily cleaning and disinfection, and frequent hand washing (click here for a summary of current mitigations). The district also has a large supply of high-quality KN95 masks in both adult and children’s sizes, which may be utilized to provide extra protection during the school day. Please contact your school principal if you are in need of additional masks.
The updated CDC guidance includes recommendations and resources for individuals who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. They have also created a web page, “Families and COVID-19,” that contains helpful information and tips for making decisions and keeping your family safe. If you are seeking additional help, please reach out to your school and we will do our best to address your concerns and connect you with local resources.
Social-Emotional Supports and Family Resources
It is to be expected that there will be a range of emotions about our transition to “masks recommended and not required.” Students may be anxious, excited, apprehensive, or eager and those feelings may evolve as the transition sets in. Some of our students have never been in school without a mask, so for those students this will be a new experience.
As we move towards this transition, our emphasis is on the social-emotional needs of our students and supporting each other as a community. Our school staff will support classroom communities that encourage inclusiveness, belonging, and care. Our district Culture and Climate Coaches, in collaboration with our school-based PBIS/Culture and Climate teams, have designed resources to support classroom conversations, which will begin the week of March 7. They have also prepared resources for families to support the conversations that will happen at home to support students with this transition.
Regardless of a family’s decision about mask wearing, preparing your child for this change in their learning environment may put them at ease.
- Communicate Kindness: You can help your child understand that the pandemic has caused many unknowns, and everyone is working to do what is best for their families. Being different is ok and respecting difference is an important part of our community. Another family’s decision may not be the same as their own and that is ok.
- Clear Expectations: As we get closer to March 17th, depending on the developmental age and stage of your child, explain why your family has decided that wearing or not wearing a mask at school is best for them. Set clear expectations for your child’s behavior at school. Reinforce the need to respect differences. You may want to discuss with your child what respect looks like/sounds like.
- Model and Practice Skills: If your child feels self-conscious about wearing or not wearing a mask, help them to put words to their feelings. You can develop a script with them and practice with them how to respond directly. For example, “I feel better wearing/not wearing a mask at school; what should we play at recess?”
- Encourage Your Child to Speak Up: Remind your child that it is important to speak to an adult at school if they notice a student being mistreated or if they have been mistreated. Promoting a culture of mutual respect should include feeling safe to speak up. Help your child to identify a trusted adult(s) at school that they can go to.
School rules and behavior expectations remain the same: bullying is not tolerated. Our Bullying Report Form is available for students, staff, and families to report bullying behavior.
Additionally, it’s important that we prepare our students to be flexible should masks become required indoors again due to a state or local mask mandate or if we experience high transmission in our community, per CDC guidelines. This is not something that we want to happen. However, as we have experienced throughout the pandemic, we should expect the unexpected and be prepared to listen, learn and take action when necessary to address the safety of our students, staff and families.
We encourage all members of our district community to reinforce these messages with our students and to model the kindness, empathy and respect that we are teaching in our classrooms.
Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet