Indian Prairie District 204 to require masks in schools

  • Parents and students rallied July 31 outside the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 education center in Aurora, urging school leaders to require the use of face coverings. District officials revised their back-to-school plans this week to align with a recent mask mandate issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

      Parents and students rallied July 31 outside the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 education center in Aurora, urging school leaders to require the use of face coverings. District officials revised their back-to-school plans this week to align with a recent mask mandate issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/10/2021 5:46 PM

Much has changed in the three weeks since Indian Prairie Unit District 204 adopted its initial back-to-school plan for the 2021-22 academic year.

COVID-19 positivity rates and case counts have spiked. Public health guidance has been updated and clarified. And most significantly, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order requiring masks in schools for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

 

That mandate will be followed and enforced in District 204 when full-time, in-person learning resumes Aug. 19, administrators said this week, revising an earlier strategy that recommended but did not require the use of face coverings based on pandemic conditions at the time.

"The plans we have allow us to focus on having our students in school and keeping them there," Superintendent Adrian Talley said. "We know everyone would love for staff and students to have a normal pre-pandemic school year. We're not there yet, but we're closer to it than last year."

The district's updated plans, presented to the school board Monday, take a tiered approach to mitigating COVID-19 risks. Since the July 19 meeting, the transmission level within district ZIP codes has moved from low to substantial, with a weekly average of 95.3 new cases per 100,000 people, Deputy Superintendent Doug Eccarius said.

Based on that risk level, the back-to-school plan calls for requiring monthly self-certification that the student has not attended school with COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure; maintaining at least 3 feet of distancing, increased to 6 feet wherever possible; expanding separation during lunch; and prohibiting field trips.

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Officials plan to adjust prevention strategies as transmission and positivity rates change. But they say the district will continue requiring face coverings as long as Pritzker's mandate is in effect.

"The district will not be the arbitrator of the legality of the governor's orders," board member Justin Karubas said.

Universal masking and physical distancing, as well as being vaccinated, reduce the likelihood of students needing to stay home if they come in contact with someone who tests positive, Eccarius said. Those in quarantine will receive instructional and social-emotional support based on their grade level and the coursework planned for each class.

Families and community members remain divided on whether masks should be required in schools, with some urging district leaders to defy Pritzker's mandate and offer a choice on the matter. Other parents have stressed that face coverings are the best way to protect those who are unvaccinated, including students under 12 who are not yet eligible.

Recent federal guidance, backed by state and local health agencies, advises requiring face coverings in grades pre-K to 12, among other prevention strategies.

District 204 school board members supported the mask requirement and updated back-to-school plans, saying they will continue following public health guidelines and state orders. Failure to do so puts the district's reputation, funding, liability and students' health at risk, board member Mark Rising said.

"My role when I walk into this board room is not one of politics and not of taking sides," he said. "(It's) listening to our whole community, and not one group over the other, to ensure all students are safe."

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