Forest Park School District 91 is going mask-optional while keeping other COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place.
In a letter to parents dated Feb. 27 , district superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez cited changes in the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement that school districts can now make masks optional. Effective March 2, students and staff no longer have to wear masks unless they are returning to school after testing positive for COVID-19 – though mask-wearing is still “strongly recommended.” And while someone who has been in contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 no longer has to quarantine, other quarantining and social distancing requirements will remain in place.
The letter to families indicates that, as before, the school will offer free masks and free saliva-based rapid tests, but students will no longer be required to wear masks. The one exception to this is students and staff coming back from quarantine five days after testing positive for COVID-19 and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms – they would be required to keep masking for another five days.
The quarantine requirement for students and staff who test positive remains in place. Students will still be required to sit six feet apart during lunch and stay at least three feet apart while in class. The letter also mentions that the district will “maintain all our cleaning disinfection protocols throughout the school” and “maintain our hand-washing/hand-sanitizing protocols.”
According to District 91’s COVID-19 dashboard, the district hasn’t had a single COVID-19 case among either students or staff during the week of Feb. 20 to Feb. 26, but, as of Feb. 28, they had one positive student case this week.
District 91 previously maintained its masking requirement after Seventh Judicial Circuit Court judge Raylene Grischow ruled on Feb. 5 that the state didn’t follow proper procedures when it established school masking and quarantine requirements and issued a Temporary Restraining Order halting enforcement. At the time, Alvarez said that, since the district wasn’t one of the parties to the lawsuit Grischow ruled on, the district maintained the masking requirement when the appeals court upheld the decision. The appeals court ruling allowed the schools to set their own masking and quarantining mandates.
On Feb. 25, the Illinois Supreme Court denied the appeal, while also vacating Grischow’s ruling. On the same day, CDC changed how it calculates COVID-19 community risk levels, putting more emphasis on hospitalizations. This led to all of Cook County being declared “low-risk.” Since the CDC recommended that masks are only needed in the areas of high transmission, Alvarez wrote, it made sense to shift the policy now.
In her letter, the superintendent urged parents to “speak with your child about being kind to others as we move to this new model.”
“As always, we are committed to providing a healthy school environment for all students and staff,” Alvarez wrote. “We are thankful for your efforts, flexibility and patience this school year as we mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in our schools and preserve in-person instruction.”
Nurys Uceta-Ramos, the district’s Family and Community Engagement Manager, previously told the Review that they have seen “little to no pushback” to their protocols while the masks were still required.
“We have been thankful that our families have been very cooperative when it comes to our protocols from the start,’ she said. ‘We have been very proactive in terms of offering opportunities to our families to share feedback regarding our COVID guidance, and we have taken their input into consideration as well as that of our teachers and staff.”