School districts set to receive COVID-19 guidance this month for fall school year

Districts advised to plan for both looser CDC guidance and the potential that current mitigations will remain in place

St. Charles North High School students leave for the day on Friday, April 9, 2021. High school students in St. Charles School District 303 began in-person learning five days a week on April 5.

School districts across the state this month are expected to get guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education on what the COVID-19 guidelines will be for the fall school year.

“We recommend planning for both looser CDC guidance and the potential that current mitigations will remain in place,” Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said in a response to a letter from school superintendents throughout the state requesting that the Illinois State Board of Education relax COVID-19 guidelines for the fall school year.

Several Kane County school superintendents, including the superintendents of Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Kaneland, West Aurora and Elgin school districts along with superintendents from other large unit school districts throughout the state on June 22 sent a letter to Ayala voicing their concerns about the current guidelines and how they will impact the school year.

In her response to the letter, Ayala said the Illinois State Board of Education is waiting for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We anticipate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue its updated guidance for schools in early July, which will then allow the Illinois Department of Public Health to finalize and issue the updated guidance for Illinois schools,” she said. “While we all wish the guidance could come more quickly, we are hopeful that the CDC will provide additional insight into requirements for social distancing, mask wearing, and other mitigations that schools are taking.”

Ayala noted that federal and state health experts are monitoring the “new, more transmissible delta variant, which is rapidly spreading among the unvaccinated, as they formulate additional guidance. In central Illinois, a recent outbreak at a teen camp led to more than 80 cases as well as a secondary outbreak with more than 10 cases.”

“These new outbreaks illustrate that we continue to deal with a virus that has shown itself to be both deadly and unpredictable, particularly for those who are unvaccinated,” she said. “Health experts have saved lives throughout this pandemic by relying on science and data.”

Earlier this year, the Illinois State Board of Education released revised public health guidance for schools. Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff.

The superintendents contend that under the 6-feet social distancing guidelines, “it is impossible for most of our schools to operate at 100 percent capacity.”

“Using 3-feet social distancing guidelines, full capacity is possible in most cases, but only with significant modifications,” their letter states. “Those modifications include, but are not limited to, items such as different furniture (desks instead of tables), completely redesigned lunch procedures and new student bell schedules.”

They are requesting that social distancing, quarantining, and masking guidelines in schools “be consistent with health guidelines of Phase 5 as applied to other venues in Illinois.”

In May, the Illinois State Board of Education voted on a resolution that would require all schools to resume in-person learning. The board also decided that remote instruction needs to be made available for students who are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are under a quarantine order by a local public health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Through science we know that children are the least vulnerable population to COVID,” the superintendents state in the letter. “Generally, we know that in normal circumstances, schools are the most controlled, supervised venue that kids attend. Schools should not have to operate under tighter restrictions than what has been deemed safe in other circumstances. If there are continued social distancing and quarantining guidelines in place, we ask that they be consistent among agencies and local health departments.”