Indian Prairie District 204 won't require masks as long as less than 5% test positive for virus
Tiered COVID-19 mitigation strategies are roped into a plan adopted in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 for the 2021-22 school year.
Based on the current metrics, that means masks will be recommended but not required when students and employees start the school year next month "in as much of a pre-pandemic way as possible," Superintendent Adrian Talley said.
But district officials are prepared to flip the switch and tighten restrictions if virus positivity rates spike.
The school board voted 5-2 Monday to approve the fall opening plan, which outlines prevention measures that correlate with four possible levels of community transmission.
With a positivity rate of 2.16%, District 204 is currently in the lowest tier, Deputy Superintendent Doug Eccarius said. If cases move into a moderate level -- 5% to 7.9% -- the district may consider requiring face coverings for students and staff members to reduce necessary quarantines, he said.
Transmission rates 8% and higher would trigger mandatory face coverings.
The question of whether masks should be required sparked a heated divide among parents and community members. While many urged district officials to give families a choice on the matter, others stressed the importance of face coverings to protect those who are unvaccinated -- including students under 12 who are not yet eligible.
Masks are "strongly encouraged" for kids and staff members who aren't inoculated, Talley said. But the plan, for now, does not require them, resulting in opposing votes from board members Natasha Grover and Justin Karubas.
"So long as we are in a public health emergency, teachers and students should be required to wear masks so we can stay in the classroom," Karubas said.
The approved plan outlines quarantine protocols based on vaccination status, physical distancing and whether a mask was worn while an individual was in close contact with someone who later tested positive. Anyone showing symptoms will be asked to isolate, Eccarius said.
Prevention strategies in place regardless of community positivity rate include contact tracing, cleaning and disinfection, masks required on buses, possible surveillance testing, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, and -- the most important -- promoting vaccination, administrators said.
"We know that the greatest prevention activity is getting a vaccine if one is 12 years of age or older," Talley said in a letter to families and staff members Monday night. "We are trying to prevent additional cases in our area as well as reduce the opportunity for the Delta variant to replicate and grow stronger in our area."
Other steps could be taken if cases continue to rise, Eccarius said, such as increasing physical distancing from 3 to 6 feet and requiring more frequent self-certification.
Field trips are currently allowed within district ZIP codes but could be canceled if transmission levels reach substantial or high.
District officials intend to monitor COVID-19 data daily and modify policies if needed, Talley said.
"The tiered approach, to me, makes sense. It's tied to our community, and right now in our community, we're doing a great job," board member Allison Fosdick said. "The flexibility that's built into this plan, I think, is genius for what we need."