Cary School District 26 will require masks for all students, from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, when they go back to school next month.
School boards statewide have been grappling with the decision whether to make masks mandatory in schools, especially since July 9, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for the 2021-22 school year which the Illinois Department of Public Health later adopted.
Under this guidance, the CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within the classroom, and suggested – but did not require – masks be worn indoors by all unvaccinated individuals older than 2 years old.
As a result, some districts, such as McHenry Elementary School District 15 and McHenry High School District 156, opted to make masks optional, regardless of vaccination status. Nearby Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 announced it will encourage, but not require, masks for the upcoming school year, and then sent out a survey last Thursday to see if families would be interested in mask-required classrooms.
At the Cary School District 26 school board meeting Monday, board members were presented with mitigations recommended by the administration and the district’s Return to School Task Force for the upcoming school year, District 26 Superintendent Brian Coleman said in an interview Tuesday.
While the administration and the task force – made up of District 26 administrators, teachers and support staff – advised recommending students wear face masks, board members said they wanted a stricter mask requirement.
“The board agreed with the recommended mitigations except for the masking mitigation,” Coleman said. “They changed this recommendation to requiring masks for all students, Pre-K through 8, when we return in the fall.”
The school board, absent one member, unanimously voted to approve the changes, Coleman said.
Other mitigations District 26 will be putting into place this school year include social distancing; hand-washing and respiratory etiquette; staying home when sick and getting tested; voluntary diagnostic and screening testing; improved ventilation; contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation; and cleaning and disinfecting.
The district also will continue monitoring COVID-19 health metrics and meeting with the McHenry County Department of Health, according to Monday evening’s presentation.
District 26′s decision to require masks aligns with Tuesday’s newly released CDC recommendations, which state that all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools – including those fully vaccinated – should wear masks and that masks should be worn in public indoor setting in areas with substantial transmission.
The Illinois Department of Public Health quickly adopted those recommendations.
“While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement Tuesday. “Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the delta variant. We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.”