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Masks, COVID-19 testing still required in school? It depends on the DeKalb County school district

A temporary stay to the governor’s mask mandate requiring face coverings in schools and weekly testing won’t impact DeKalb or Sycamore schools, officials said Sunday, Feb. 6. Mask and testing requirements were to remain in place come Monday.

In response to Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow’s temporary restraining order of Gov. JB Pritzker statewide school mask mandate which has been in place since August, DeKalb Community School District 428 and Sycamore School District 427 superintendents both issued letters to families Sunday saying that since its districts were not attached to the lawsuit, they will continue to enforce the mask mandate.

That goes for school buildings, buses and extracurricular activities, DeKalb and Sycamore district officials said.

DeKalb District 428

“Our current rules regarding masking, testing and exclusion will remain in place,” states DeKalb’s letter sent by Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez. “This means, for school attendance, transportation and participation in extracurricular activities, staff, students and visitors must wear masks as required by the district’s current policies and procedures.”

District 428’s letter also stated that staff and students who test positive for COVID-19 or are determined to be close contacts to someone who has the coronavirus will continue to be required to be excluded.

Sycamore District 427

In a letter sent to Sycamore Community School District 427, school officials said its students and staff also will be required to continue the status quo. That includes required mask-wearing, exclusion of students who have or are exposed to the virus and required vaccinations or weekly testing for staff and visitors.

That goes for buses, too, both DeKalb and Sycamore district officials said.

“Our legal guidance was extremely clear that face masks will continue to be required on school buses as this requirement was issued by the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] and the Department of Education at the federal level,” stated Sycamore’s letter to families Sunday. “Therefore the judge in Sangamon County had no authority over the requirement on school buses.”

“Students will continue to be required to be masked to board and ride a school bus,” stated the DeKalb School District. “As is currently the case, students who do not have a mask will be provided with one as they board the bus. For admission to school buildings and attendance in classes, as has been the case since Aug. 3, staff and students will be required to wear masks.”

Several districts in DeKalb County, however, have opted to move to a mask-optional model come Monday, including Genoa-Kingston District 424 and Indian Creek District 425.

Genoa-Kingston District 424

In an email sent to district families Sunday, Genoa-Kingston Superintendent Brent O’Daniell said the mask-only policy will not apply to school buses, which still will require masks to be worn at all times, including to and from athletic events.

“We realize that opinions on this issue can be very conflicting,” O’Daniell said in his Sunday email. “We would ask that everyone be considerate of one other, and not pass judgment on those that might not believe the same way. Please be accepting of those that still choose to mask, as well as those that choose not to mask.”

Hiawatha District 426

Jared Poynter, superintendent of Hiawatha School District 426 in Kirkland, said that masks are “strongly recommended but not required.”

“We are following the TRO [temporary restraining order] because we were a named district in the case,” Poynter said. “We are closely watching the outcome of the appeal process.”

Indian Creek District 425

In an email sent to district families Sunday, Indian Creek Superintendent Chad Willis said that although the district was not attached to the temporary restraining order, they will comply with it. Like Genoa-Kingston, masks will still be required on school buses.

“The district continues to strongly recommend that students, staff, and visitors use masks in our buildings,” Willis said in his email to Indian Creek families. “However, the district will not exclude students or staff who choose not to wear a mask. The Board of Education and school administration ask that students and families respect the choice each individual may make when deciding to wear or not wear a mask. Any bullying or harassment toward a student or staff member based on their individual or family choice will not be tolerated.”

Willis said Indian Creek students who test positive will still be required to quarantine for at least five days, and only return when symptom and fever free. Students who are considered close contact will not be excluded as long as they remain negative for the virus. Indian Creek district will still continue to provide testing for those who wish it.

Sandwich District 430

In a message to families sent over the weekend, the Sandwich Board of Education for Sandwich School District 430 said that the district “is moving to strongly recommend mask wearing.”

“We are awaiting clarification from other independent stakeholders including but not limited to, IHSA, IESA, and IMEA,” the message states. “The order issued by the judge is expected to be appealed by the state to the appellate court and we will adjust based on this or any other event.”

Health department responds

School district officials said they will continue to monitor future government rulings and will update families and the community with additional information as it becomes available.

Grischow issued a temporary restraining order late Friday, Feb. 3, that Pritkzer and the Illinois Department of Public Health could not issue a mask mandate for schools or require that students be excluded when they are close contacts to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Pritzker released a statement hours later promising to appeal the decision from the Sangamon County judge.

The Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, which includes the DeKalb County Health Department, issued a statement Sunday, Feb. 6, saying it was aware of the ruling.

The local health departments that make up the consortium recognize “the independent authority of local school districts to determine what mitigations will be adopted in their schools,” they said in the statement.

The consortium said they recommend local school districts “continue to adopt a layered approach to mitigation to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 among staff, students, and the community, including vaccination, masking, and isolation of ill individuals.”

The health departments will continue to conduct case investigations for COVID-19 and issue quarantine and isolation orders in certain circumstances under their authority as outlined in state law, they said.

This is a developing story which could be updated as more school districts announce decisions ahead of Monday’s return to school.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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