Cook County won't require masks in schools, but supports districts that do

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A $2 million new ventilation system is being installed at Union Ridge School in Harwood Heights. It's one of several COVID mitigation strategies the small Cook County school district is putting in place for the upcoming school year. But Supt. Michael Maguire said the district has yet to make a decision on masks.

"We are trying to figure out what is best for our school and community," Maguire said. "We are constantly looking at the metrics."

The steep price for a small school district is believed to be an important safety measure, while still trying to decide on the much cheaper version of making students wear face masks.

To help make decisions, the Cook County Department of Public Health offered school districts guidance on Friday:

-All unvaccinated individuals ages 2 years and older wear masks indoors
-Three feet of physical distancing whenever possible in classrooms
-Advising all eligible students and staff get the vaccine

"The bottom line is, with our school guidance, is that if you're not vaccinated and you work or learn in school, you must have your mask on," said Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer at Cook County Dept. of Public Health.

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But, CCDPH stopped short of requiring masks for vaccinated students, a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics and a requirement Chicago Public Schools announced Thursday.

"For those schools that want to take that further step and support the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations to have everybody masked, at this point, in the schools, we would support that," Rubin said.

Most are requiring masks for elementary school students who are under 12 and too young to get the vaccine. The Cook County Department of Public Health, however, is urging a stronger stance.

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The CDC and state allow for each school district to make their own decisions, which Supt. Maguire admits puts school officials in tough positions.

"We have strong groups of parents that want masks and we have strong groups of parents that absolutely do not want masks on their child," Maguire said. "We totally understand both sides of it, we are kinda stuck in the middle."

Maguire said Union Ridge school does not start until after Labor Day, which gives the district more time to make mask decisions. For now, at the minimum, unvaccinated students and staff indoors must wear masks indoors
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