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Chicago Public Schools Will Require Masks When Classes Resume — But 3 Feet Of Distancing Not Guaranteed

The state school board has said masks can be optional for vaccinated students and teachers. But local district can set stricter rules.

Sam looks on as public officials tour classrooms at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy while CPS continues its reopening plans in the Lake View neighborhood on March 1, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Students, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks inside Chicago’s public school buildings in the upcoming academic year, regardless of vaccination status, district officials announced Thursday. 

The district said ensuring access to full-time in-person learning this fall is its “highest priority,” in line with state, local, and national health guidance. The district will not guarantee three feet of social distancing at all times due to school population and classroom constraints.  

The updated set of safety measures come as parents express concern about district uncertainty leading into the school year and just days after city officials sounded the alarm about a surge in the highly contagious delta variant. The state school board has said masks can be optional for vaccinated students and teachers, but that local administrators can set more strict rules. Debate has erupted in some suburban districts about mask requirements.

Masks will not be mandatory while eating or drinking indoors, or during outdoor activities like recess and sports, the district said in the email to parents and staff.

The district will enforce three feet of social distancing “wherever possible.” While eating meals, students will be divided between cafeterias and other spaces like classrooms to facilitate three feet of distance. Where distance is not possible, schools will rely on safety measures like air purifiers, hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing, and cloth face coverings.

“Based on widespread scientific consensus, we know that proven strategies like the ones announced today will keep students healthy, safe and supported,” said the email, signed by interim schools chief Jose Torres. 

The district said Thursday it will update health protocols when necessary according to public health guidance. 

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.