Forest Park School District 91 is sticking with its current COVID-19 protocols as the fate of the state requirements behind them remains uncertain. Meanwhile new COVID cases in the Forest Park public elementary schools are falling fast in recent weeks.
The state guidelines issued last August require students and staff to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status and sets up requirements for students who test positive for COVID-19 or come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. A lawsuit filed by parents and students from 146 school districts throughout Illinois sought to make the masking optional. On Feb. 5, Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow ruled that the state didn’t follow the proper procedures and didn’t give affected residents the opportunity to appeal, issuing a Temporary Restraining Order.
The state appealed, but the appellate court kept the order in place while clarifying that school districts were still free to impose their own rules. The appeal now goes to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Locally, the district is choosing to keep the protocols in place, at least until that ruling comes down. This comes as the number of infections among students, teachers and other staff members in District 91 dropped from the December/January peak to single digits. However, the district has yet to have a week without any cases whatsoever.
For the most part, the district continues to follow the same protocols as it had for the past few months. Students who test positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for at least 10 days – longer if symptoms persist. Students who displayed COVID-19 symptoms or came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 would need to isolate for at least five days unless they test negative or if their doctor diagnoses them with something non-COVID that could explain the symptoms. The students who came in contact with someone who tested positive would need to get tested every day for five days.
According to the data shared publicly by District 91, immediately after the winter break, its schools saw the highest number of COVID-19 infections since the return to in-person learning, with 57 students and 11 staff members testing positive during the week of Jan. 2 to Jan. 8. But over the next two weeks, the numbers have dropped dramatically, with 23 students and 1 staff member testing positive in the week of Jan. 9 to Jan. 15, and 11 students and six teachers testing positive in the week of Jan. 16 to Jan. 22. Since then, the numbers have been in single digits. The week of Feb. 13 to Feb. 19 saw four students and two staff members testing positive.
According to Illinois State Board of Education records, the district had 660 students and 84 teachers during the 2021-2022 school year, the most recent school year for which the data is available.
During the Feb. 10 meeting of the District 91 Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez said that, since the district wasn’t a party to the lawsuit, they would keep the protocols as is, at least for the time being.
“We plan on minimizing disruptions and continue to maximize educational opportunities for our students, and we ask that you just be patient as we wait to hear from the appellate court,” she said.
Nurys Uceta-Ramos, the district’s family and community engagement manager, said that the recent legal developments didn’t lead to any protocol changes.
“If anything changes, we will let our families know directly,” she said.