IDPH, State Board of Education revises school health guidelines


ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), in partnership with the state health department, is updating its COVID-19 guidelines for schools.

A press release says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued new rules that reinforce how schools are an important part of community infrastructure, that in-person instruction promotes learning recovery along with the well-being of students and families, and that schools should be the last settings to close and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.

The release adds the new guidance reflects what educational organizations and health experts have learned about how coronavirus spreads in school settings, as students returned to classrooms in the 2020-2021 school year.

No matter how much or how little COVID-19 has spread in a community, the Board and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IPDH) says all schools must adhere to the following rules:

  • Require universal and correct use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks
  • Require social distancing be observed, as much as possible
  • Require contact tracing in combination with isolation of those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and quarantine of close contacts, in collaboration with the local health department
  • Require an increase in school-wide cleaning and disinfection and maintenance of healthy environments
  • Require promotion and adherence to hand washing and respiratory etiquette.

The rules say in-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning.

Additionally, capacity limits for in-person learning, including non-academic school hour activities such as lunch, will be set by how well people are able to socially distance in that setting, instead of being determined by a set capacity limit number or percentage.

School buses will be limited to 50 people per bus, the rules says.

IDPH says it’s changing the recommendation for social distancing to 3-6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff, but 6 feet is still the safest distance.

The state board of education says schools must have no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning.

Additionally, unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible, because IDPH says adults are still more susceptible to infection than children.

“Strict adherence to social distancing must be maintained when face masks are removed in limited situations and monitored by school staff,” the release says.

The CDC has also stopped recommending schools do on-site screening for syomptoms, but they can continue this practice if they prefer to.

“Schools and districts should require self-certification and verification for all staff, students, and visitors prior to entering school buildings,” the release says.

As for families of students at increased risk of severe illness, including people with special health care needs, or who live with people at increased risk, must be allowed to take on-line only classes, the rules says.

The past year has been a long, challenging road for all of us. In March of last year is when we had to make the difficult decision to suspend in-person instruction statewide. One year later, we are grateful and encouraged to be rounding the corner. Day by day, more and more districts on our COVID-19 dashboard move into the hybrid and in-person learning columns. More and more teachers are receiving the vaccine, and our positivity rates are below 3 percent. Everyone who works in our schools – you are all heroes for leading us through this pandemic.

IDPH, ISBE press release.

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