By Aaron Faier, Editor
Chicago Public Schools has recently released its new COVID-19 mitigation guidelines for the upcoming school year. Among the most notable is it’s stance on masks; when students return to school on August 30th, face coverings must be “worn indoors by everyone, regardless of vaccination status, except for while eating or drinking.” The school district stated that “continuing to require masks will help make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible.”
Kate Haldes ‘22 agrees with the district’s decision: “I think that it’s probably a smart precaution, especially considering how the Delta variant of the virus is more infectious and is able to infect people who are fully vaccinated.” Haldes acknowledged that these new rules may be frustrating to those who are fully vaccinated, but she says that wearing a mask “definitely makes me feel more protected because my younger sibling is too young to be vaccinated and needs the extra protection on the off chance that I catch the variant.”
CPS’s mask guidance follows that of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends that “all students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use.” Cited reasons for this guidance include the protection of unvaccinated students from transmission, the potential difficulty in enforcing mask policies for those who are unvaccinated, and concern for variants such as the highly contagious Delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of new COVID cases in the United States. While the CDC and AAP guidelines were different when originally issued, the CDC has recently updated its stance to be in line with the AAP guidance due to rising cases as well as the inability for children under the age of 12 to get vaccinated.
Chicago Public Schools is not alone in making masks mandatory in schools regardless of vaccination status. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced on August 4 that masks would be mandatory in all schools regardless of vaccination status throughout the state, with California having already announced a similar measure in mid-July. However, this is not the case in all states. The governors of some states including Texas and Florida issued executive orders preventing mask mandates in schools.
In addition to the new masking requirements, CPS also included a myriad of other regulations to abide by. Social distancing was emphasized as requirements for space between students dropped from last year’s mandated six feet to three feet. The district will also continue its efforts in mitigating the spread of the virus with various approaches including providing air purifiers and hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and following contact tracing. All of these measures were implemented at Payton last year, including single person tables, one-way hallways and staircases, and a google form for restroom usage to help with contact tracing. There has been no word yet from the administration as to whether or not these measures will be in place in the coming year. Haldes is hopeful that these changes “will not be necessary for an extended period of time, but I think it is helpful as a transitional phase back into normal school and feeling safe in that setting again.”
While most students will be back in person, some will be allowed to remain 100% remote. According to the CPS website, students with medical needs verified by a healthcare provider will be allowed to attend a centralized remote instruction program referred to as Virtual Academy. The programming will be similar to last year’s remote learning including asynchronous time for screen/movement breaks, although some specialized courses may not be available. Fortunately for Payton students, given that the Payton does not accept transfers, students attending Virtual Academy will not forfeit their seats in the school they have enrolled in. Students will, though, be enrolled in Virtual Academy for at least the entirety of the first semester.