Though Chicago Public Schools will switch to a mask-optional protocol starting next week, could face-covering requirements return to the classroom at some point?
Beginning March 14, CPS said its mask mandate will be lifted for all students and staff, giving parents, students and employees a choice, though the district said it will continue to encourage their use.
“CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask- optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together.”
However, public health and CPS officials said that should the city and school district move into a higher transmission rate, the mandate could be reinstated.
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"If we see the risk levels go up, this is in consultation with CDPH and we'll also watch the CDC, if our community goes into a higher risk, we will we reinstate masking," Martinez said Tuesday. "And so we're not going to be mask-optional forever."
"Unless COVID treats us beautifully," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady added.
Martinez said that the mandate is at the district level, so all schools will move into the mask-optional model.
Based on the city's data, Arwady said COVID cases and hospitalizations are at the lowest since the school year started, as well as vaccination rates nearly at the national average.
For CPS, the district's mask mandate was part of an agreement reached between city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this year. The union called the district's decision to lift the requirement a "clear violation" of the duo's agreement.
"Our union will immediately be filing an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the district in response, and requesting that CPS bargain over this decision — a decision that impacts nearly 400,000 students, educators and school staffers in Chicago," the union said in a release Monday.
Illinois ended its requirement of face masks in schools at the end of last month, as announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker after the Illinois Supreme Court denied his appeal of a restraining order in a lawsuit challenging the mask mandate.
In a statement, Pritzker explained Illinois will move forward to remove its school mask mandate after the Centers for Disease Control updated guidance to recommend masks only in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.
Last month, the governor and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the state will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision making masks optional in school settings, noting the ruling failed "to address important legal issues."