The River Forest District 90 School Board voted unanimously last week to make mask-wearing optional indoors for all staff and students. During the March 1 Committee of the Whole meeting, the seven-member school board voted to drop the indoor mask mandate across the three-school district, following the governor’s announcement to end masking requirements in schools and many public places and new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Last weekend, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced face masks would no longer be required in schools starting Feb. 28, the same day the statewide indoor mask mandate was lifted. The district implemented Pritzker’s new ruling last Monday but asked board members to approve the mask-optional policy and review other COVID-19 mitigations at the March 1 meeting. Board members previously tabled the decision to go mask-optional, asking administrators to create a plan in the event cases climbed or outbreaks occurred, especially after staff and students return from the coming spring break.
Superintendent Ed Condon told the board that even though the district planned to ease masking restrictions, the other COVID-19 safety measures remained in place. Those measures would be monitored and rolled back as health conditions stabilize and improve.
“I just want to reassure members of the community that at this time we are maintaining other mitigation steps,” Condon said.
Among the steps, the district plans to continue are encouraging physical distancing “as appropriate,” maintaining upgraded ventilation and air circulation, cleaning and sanitizing classrooms and other parts of the building, administering voluntary COVID-19 testing and outbreak testing, and encouraging eligible staff and students to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Condon said. Face masks will also continue to be available for use for staff, students and visitors, he added.
But while District 90 is now mask-optional, there are still some caveats, Condon said to board members. For example, even though staff and students riding the school bus do not have to be masked, those traveling to participate in programs and events at other schools must follow the host schools’ masking protocols.
“We need to stress that it may not be face mask-optional for the locations that the children are going,” Condon said.
Another place where face masks are required is at the school nurses’ offices, Condon said. He added that school employees, students and other individuals in elementary classrooms that have been placed in outbreak status by the Cook County of Department of Public Health for up to two weeks are required to wear face masks.
“One of the reasons why we’re specifying that for elementary classrooms is because of the aggregate amount of time that children in those classrooms spend together,” he said.
Other instances that call for required masking are if the schools are located in areas with high transmission rates per the CDC’s latest guidelines. School employees and students who test positive for COVID-19 must be masked for five additional days after completing a five-day isolation period, according to the CDC. A complete list of the district’s revised COVID-19 measures can be found on the school website at www.district90.org.
Nearing the end of his remarks, Condon stressed the district will not tolerate any harassment, teasing or bullying as it moves into a mask-optional environment and extended his gratitude toward his colleagues and students.
“I’d like to thank our students for their responsiveness and uniqueness to this situation and the class with which they’re handling it. I’d like to thank our faculty and staff for the conversations they’ve had with kids, supporting decision making, and helping kids understand that this is a nuanced dynamic,” he said. “And I’d really like to thank our principals and assistant principals for providing leadership and a short turnaround time to ensure schools are ready to make this shift on Monday morning.”