What are the unanswered questions for school districts about COVID-19 mitigations before students return?

Will mask wearing be enforced? How will quarantine rules work if and when there are breakouts?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance July 9 for school districts on COVID-19 mitigations for the 2021-22 school year, which the Illinois Department of Public Health quickly adopted.

A major element of the updated guidance includes masks being worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a news release sent Friday from the IDPH and Illinois State Board of Education. State officials also continued to encourage physical distancing of at least 3 feet and students and staff staying home if they are sick to help reduce the risk of transmission.

According to the CDC’s updated guidance, schools are urged to work with local public health agencies to determine appropriate prevention strategies considering an area’s level of community transmission – low, moderate, substantial or high – and local vaccine coverage.

“This CDC guidance is meant to supplement – not replace – any federal, state, local, territorial or tribal health and safety laws, rules and regulations with which schools must comply,” the CDC said. “The adoption and implementation of this guidance should be done in collaboration with regulatory agencies and state, local, territorial and tribal public health departments, and in compliance with state and local policies and practices.”

The CDC still is recommending face masks and distancing of at least 3 feet between students as “key prevention strategies,” according to the updated guidance.

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala announced Friday that the state would mandate in-person learning, with limited exceptions.

All schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days provided that remote instruction is made available for unvaccinated students who also may not be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine – and only while they are under quarantine, according to a news release from the state.

In coming weeks, districts will announce their own mitigation strategies for the upcoming school year. Here is a list of questions that parents and families will need to know before their kids return to the classrooms in August.

  • Will masks be required for all students this fall, or will they only be required for elementary students who cannot yet be vaccinated, and those 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated?
  • How will mask-wearing be enforced, and will families be required to provide proof of vaccination?
  • Will districts be offering remote options for students with medical conditions or when students must quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure?
  • What are the protocols for quarantining? Will vaccinated students still be required to quarantine after a potential COVID-19 exposure?
  • What will the social distancing look like this year? Will students be 3 or 6 feet apart? If they’re not able to be a minimum of 3 feet apart, what other mitigations will be put in place?
  • Will districts be administering any vaccines in school buildings this year?
  • How will families know if their child’s teachers have been vaccinated or not?
  • How will teachers know if their (12 and older) students have been vaccinated or not?
  • What rules will students be expected to follow in after-school programs?
  • Will districts be doing any on-campus COVID-19 testing?

Parents/Students, what questions do you have?