With face-covering requirements lifted across Illinois, Chicago Public Schools officials say classrooms will soon switch to a mask-optional model for both students and staff.
Starting next week, 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.”
Citing vaccination rates and new CDC guidelines for the change, the district said more information will be released for parents before March 14.
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“The adults in our school communities will set the tone during this transition,” Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said in a statement. “I am confident that we will continue to support and respect one another through this next phase of the pandemic. Family and community situations may change and dictate if a student or staff member wears a mask and we all need to ensure that everyone feels welcome to continue the practice that makes them feel safest and most comfortable.”
CPS' 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 last week, 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."