St. Charles School District to review new CDC guidance on masks

CDC recommending students, staff and visitors wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status

St. Charles School District 303 officials plan to review the new guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all staff, students and visitors in K-12 schools where a mask indoors – regardless of vaccination status.

The CDC on Tuesday announced the new guidance to prevent further spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“We are in the process of reviewing the updated guidance related to K-12 school to see how it will impact our return to school plan.,” Carol Smith, the district’s director of communications and community relations said in an email.

The St. Charles School Board recently decided to make make masks optional for the upcoming school year. Dist. 303 students are set to start school on Aug. 11.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has announced that it is adopting the CDC’s new guidance. The IDPH issued a statement on Monday warning school district that “in addition to the health and safety reasons for following the CDC’s guidance, school districts that decide not to follow the CDC’s guidance should consult with their insurers regarding risk assumption and liability coverage. Insurers may be unwilling to cover liabilities created as a result of failure to adhere to public health guidance.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending all students, teachers and staff wear masks inside schools when classes resume to protect unvaccinated children from COVID-19 and reduce transmissions. Children age 11 and younger are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

The district’s plan recommends students and staff members who are not fully vaccinated should wear masks while inside. But masks will not be mandated.

Masks will not be not required while students and staff members are outside when physical distancing can be maintained. All staff must wear a mask unless they provide proof of vaccination or are enrolled in the district’s screening testing program.

Katherine Brito, who is vice-president of the Kane County Medical Society’s board of directors and a doctor at the Geneva Eye Clinic, on Monday tearfully pleaded with board members to reconsider their decision to make masks optional during the upcoming school year.

“I’m astounded, frankly terrified that we’re even contemplating sending our kids inside unvaccinated and unmasked this coming year,” Brito said, in addressing board members. “I don’t treat COVID patients, but I care a lot about children and I care for a lot of children, including those who are immunocompromised. I wear a mask to protect myself, but also, to protect those who are vulnerable. And the most vulnerable group is the unvaccinated.”

She noted that the number of COVID-19 cases is rising again as a result of the more transmissible delta variant.

“We must take action now to prevent a school outbreak that leads to temporary closure or God forbid, the death of a child,” Brito said. “As a medical doctor and as a parent, I would love to see universal masking in schools, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But I would settle for the compromise of regulating masks for unvaccinated students and staff.”

Board members have also heard from those who believe masks should be optional.

“Children need to have their faces exposed when reading, doing speech therapy and phonics work,” Ferson Creek Elementary School second grade teacher Nicole Cournaya recently told board members, in talking about how masks hinder learning. “Grades pre-K through 5 are the crucial years for reading and when a teacher can’t evaluate and observe a student speaking, that is detrimental to their learning, especially when learning to read and to speak. As a teacher, we also need to have our mouths and facial expressions exposed.”

She added that “it is also very hard to read social cues of students, to decide whether or not they are struggling with a situation.”

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.