By: Brittany Flaherty Theis
As indicated in an updated News & Knowledge blog post yesterday, the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) re-released their joint guidance document, Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools: Part 5 – Supporting the Full Return to In-Person Learning for All Students, August 2021 (“Part 5 Guidance”). The Part 5 Guidance was released in the morning and was followed by an updated version of the Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools – FAQ (the “FAQ”) in the evening.
Following an executive summary, the Part 5 Guidance provides details of ISBE/IDPH’s positions as it relates to each of the Public Health Requirements for Schools and is structured in order of those requirements. The Public Health Requirements for Schools include:
- Promote and/or provide COVID-19 immunization for all eligible staff and students.
- Require all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to P-12 schools to wear a mask while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
- Facilitate physical distancing. Schools should configure their spaces to provide space for physical distancing to the extent possible in their facilities.
- Require contact tracing in combination with isolation of those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and quarantine of close contact, in collaboration with the local health department.
- Implement or provide provisions for SARS-CoV-2 testing for diagnostic testing for suspected cases, close contacts, and during outbreaks, as well as screening testing for unvaccinated staff and students according to CDC’s testing recommendations.
- Improve ventilation to reduce concentration of potentially virus-containing droplets in schools’ indoor air environments.
- Promote and adhere to handwashing and respiratory etiquette.
- Encourage individuals who are sick to stay home and get tested for COVID-19.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces in schools to maintain healthy environments.
The Public Health Requirements for school contain many of the same principles incorporated into policy and procedures by school districts that provided hybrid or fully in-person instruction at any point during the 2020-2021 school year. For example, mask requirements and exceptions are similar to those in place at the end of the 2020-2021 school year and school districts must continue to work with local health departments to facilitate contract tracing and quarantine protocols. A few notable updates include:
- guidance regarding requesting vaccination status information;
- loosening of spacing restrictions when needed to accommodate full, in-person learning;
- exceptions to quarantine requirements based upon vaccination status, masking, screening testing, and a Test to Stay Protocol;
- additional diagnostic and screening testing availability and options; and
- removal of the recommended fever and symptom screening by school staff upon arrival at school. (Note: Self-screening is still recommended prior to arriving on school grounds or boarding school transportation.)
The FAQ contains answers to questions related to vaccination, masking, physical distancing, testing, contract tracing and quarantine, and determining prevention strategies. Both the FAQ and the Part 5 Guidance contain numerous links to additional information.
Balancing the interests of a school district’s staff and students, its resources, and the ever-evolving requirements placed upon school districts, is a significant challenge. School districts are encouraged to seek legal review of their plans, procedures, and policies for the 2021-2022 school year. As always, Whitt Law remains available to its clients as they plan for the start of the 2021-2022 school year in light of the recent CDC recommendations, State mandates, and ISBE/IDPH documents. Please feel free to contact any Whitt Law attorney with questions regarding these matters.