Illinois Board of Education updates COVID guidelines for schools, prioritizing in-person learning

Changes to social distancing guidelines, school symptom screening latest advice from IDPH, CDC
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Illinois State Board of Education has released updated COVID-19 safety guidelines for schools which they said reflects what they have learned about the transmission of the virus in school settings.

In a statement, the ISBE said in-person classroom instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities including sports and school events to minimize transmission in schools. As such, capacity limits for in-person learning, including activities like lunch, will now be determined by the space's ability to accommodate social distancing as opposed to a set capacity limit number or percentage.

"It's a very controlled setting and, again, we have not seen lots of transmission within the schools," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

RELATED: Illinois COVID vaccine map shows how many residents vaccinated by county

School bus capacity remains capped at 50 people per bus.

The board revised their social distancing recommendations for in-person learning, which is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and full vaccinated staff. The ISBE said while 6 feet remains the safest distance, schools can operate "at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning."

Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6-foot social distance as much as possible since adults remain more susceptible to COVID-19 infection than children.

RELATED: Chicago COVID vaccine map shows how many residents vaccinated by zip code

IDPH and the CC no longer recommend school perform symptom screenings on school grounds, but the ISBE said schools may continue to do so if they prefer to. The board also said that families of students who are at increased risk for severe illness must be provided with the option of remote learning.

The ISBE said regardless of the level of community transmission, all schools must use all of the following five essential mitigation steps:

1. Require universal and correct use of PPE, including face masks
2. Require social distancing observance as much as possible
3. Require contact tracing in combination with isolate of those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and quarantine close contacts in collaboration with the local health department
4. Require an increase in school-wide cleaning, disinfection, and maintenance of healthy environments
5. Require promotion and adherence to handwashing and respiratory etiquette

Illinois teachers and school staff are in the state's 1B vaccination group, and the ISBE said they will continue to prioritize their vaccination until all staff and teachers have received a vaccine.

Suburban schools plan to expand in-person learning after COVID outbreaks kept at bay

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Some suburban high schools say they're proof limited in-person learning can be done without COVID outbreaks, as the IL State Board of Education issued updated guidance on safety.

Suburban schools are planning to expand some in-person learning after the initial return to classrooms has proven that mitigation efforts can keep COVID-19 outbreaks at bay.

At Elk Grove High School, the half-full classes all wear masks and the desks are socially distanced six feet apart. They have had no major outbreaks of the virus, and they are confident that will not change when all students return full time in early April.

District 214 has seven high schools, and they say the minimal rate of COVID-19 transmission allows them to safely take a few steps closer to normalcy.

In Huntley, District 158 is planning to open elementary schools to full-time in-person learning starting next week. Their superintendent said it's about having enough space in the buildings to keep social distance, and the reduction of three feet will make that easier.

Some parents have been lobbying districts to bring students back fully.

"We want the option of going back to school full time, five days a week because we know it's possible," said Pat Padiyar, parent in School District 204.

"I'm hoping that this is it, that now we can start looking at some of the, at this guidance specifically, and say, 'Okay, how can we bring more in?'" said Michelle Casile, parent in School District 303.

"So much has been lost and we can't, you know we can't go back in time and get it but going forward we need to harness this opportunity.," said Shannon Adcock, parent and school board candidate in District 204.

"We're not going to let perfect be the enemy of good. There's a way to do this, and let's start making some common sense decisions to do what's best for kids," said Adam Russo, parent and school board candidate for District 203.
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