Dear District 97 Students, Staff, and Families,
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new COVID-19 guidance on community transmission levels, including information related to school masking. Governor J.B. Pritzker also announced on Friday that he was withdrawing the executive order that required masks in Illinois schools, effective Monday, February 28. Finally, the state superintendent of education indicated that “per the Governor’s announcement, masks are optional for all schools and school districts” starting Feb. 28.
On Sunday afternoon, the District 97 Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss these updates and provide direction to the administration. Recognizing both the updated guidance and concerns about the impact that sudden mitigation changes will have on our school community, it was determined that District 97 will continue to require indoor masking in all of its buildings until March 17. On that date, masking will become highly recommended, but not required.
We understand that this decision will be received differently depending on the individual or family. We believe that waiting until March 17 will allow the district to implement this change with care and compassion for our students, staff and the community as a whole—particularly those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. This includes developing plans to support our students with the transition and ensure that accommodations are in place for immunocompromised individuals in our buildings. Additionally, it is expected that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will issue guidance in the coming days reflecting the change to optional mask wearing in schools. District 97 will update and broadly communicate any revisions to our safety plans that may result from the updated guidelines from the state.
We have included some FAQs below to help our community understand the updated guidance and the reasons for this transition.
Thank you for your patience, understanding and support as we transition to this new phase of the pandemic.
Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet
Transitioning to Masks Recommended, Not Required - FAQ
How does the updated CDC and state guidance impact our decisions regarding indoor masking?
As of Feb. 25, the CDC no longer recommends universal mask wearing inside K-12 schools or early education settings in areas with a low or medium COVID-19 community level transmission. This also applies to buses or vans operated by public or private school systems. CDC rates Cook County as low transmission based on the three metrics it is now using to assess risk:
- New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days
- The percent of staffed hospital inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients
- Total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days
In accordance with this update, Gov. JB Pritzker withdrew an executive order mandating masks in all Illinois Schools, effective Feb. 28, 2022. According to the district’s legal counsel, with the executive order ending on Feb. 28, school districts now have more local discretion to adopt COVID-19 mitigation measures that they determine appropriate for their community, such as universal masking.
Why is District 97 waiting until March 17 when the state mask mandate is ending Feb. 28?
The updated guidance from the state was issued late in the evening Feb. 25, providing little time to prepare our staff, students and families for what will ultimately be a significant change to our learning environment. While some members of our community are excited and ready to make this transition, there are others who are understandably feeling anxiety and stress. Waiting until March 17 provides time for staff to develop and communicate supports for our students, address accommodations for students who are immunocompromised, and work through updated guidance from the state.
This plan was supported by the District 97 Board of Education, which held an emergency meeting Feb. 27 to discuss updated guidance from the state. The district’s legal counsel has also advised that school districts still have discretion to require universal masking for students and staff.
How will District 97 support the transition to recommending, but not requiring, masks?
The administration has already begun compiling resources to support classroom lessons and other ways of discussing masks with students. We encourage families to assist us by discussing the upcoming change, the importance of respecting others’ viewpoints, and your family’s choices with your child prior to March 17.
Will other mitigations continue in District 97 schools?
Yes. All of our existing mitigation protocols will remain in place until further notice. We will continue to review our safety measures and provide regular updates to our community regarding potential changes. Click on the link below to view a summary of our current mitigations.