IDPH, ISBE now define social distance as ‘3 to 6 feet between students and vaccinated staff’ in new guidance for school districts

New guidance also asks schools to prioritize in-person learning over extracurriculars, including sports

Students board the buses and head home at the end of the school day at Dundee-Crown High School on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 in Carpentersville.  District 300 released an email to parents informing them that a student who attends the school and their family had been told to "self-quarantine by the McHenry County Health Department while they await test results for another member of their immediate family."  The school will be closed Thursday and Friday and hopes to reopen Monday after a comprehensive cleaning.

The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education issued new guidance for in-person school on Tuesday that now defines social distance as 3 to 6 feet for students and vaccinated staff.

“Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff. Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning. Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible because adults remain more susceptible to infection than children,” the report states.

The report states that the new guidance comes as state officials learn more about the transmission of COVID-19 in schools across the state, many of which have been offering in-person schooling either full-time or in a hybrid model, with students in classrooms for some of the day and e-learning the rest of the week.

“The Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools is precipitated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently released and updated guidance that reinforces that schools are an important part of community infrastructure, that in-person instruction promotes learning recovery along with the wellbeing of students and families, and that schools therefore ‘should be the last settings to close … and the first to reopen when they can do so safely’,” the report states.

Schools should still adhere to the five layered mitigation strategies previously recommended by health officials, which include:

1. Require universal and correct use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks;

2. Require social distancing be observed, as much as possible;

3. Require contact tracing in combination with isolation of those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and quarantine of close contacts, in collaboration with the local health department;

4. Require an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection and maintenance of healthy environments; and

5. Require promotion and adherence to handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

The guidance also modifies requirements for school lunchrooms, but maintains the maximum capacity of 50 people to a school bus.

“In-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning. Toward this goal, capacity limits for in-person learning, including non-academic school hour activities such as lunch, are now determined by the space’s ability to accommodate social distancing, and not a set capacity limit number or percentage,” the report states.

The new guidance also drops the recommendation that schools screen for COVID-19 symptoms on school grounds, but districts may continue the practice if preferred.

“Schools and districts should require self-certification and verification for all staff, students, and visitors prior to entering school building,” the report states.

Districts should also continue to offer a remote learning option for families who prefer to keep their children home.

“Consistent with the updated guidance from the CDC, families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness (including those with special health care needs) or who live with people at increased risk must be given the option of remote instruction,” the report states.