Reactions mixed on CPS’ mask mandate: ‘I’d prefer they follow the CDC guidelines’

·4 min read

Michelle Fason is looking forward to sending her two children to Chicago Public Schools next month — with masks on. She said her 12-year-old son is vaccinated, while her 8-year-old daughter is too young to get the shots.

“For me, what is most critical is a safe and full, complete return to in-person instruction. I can certainly understand the need to have the mask mandate, particularly for children under 12 who are not able to be vaccinated,” said Fason, who lives in the North Kenwood neighborhood of the South Side. “I’m also comfortable with the older children also needing to (wear) masks as well, as I would imagine a school system as large as Chicago Public Schools, it will be hard to keep track (of) who’s been vaccinated, who hasn’t.”

CPS — the nation’s third-largest school district — announced Thursday that students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status, when schools reopen Aug. 30 for in-person instruction five days a week. The news comes amid conflicting advice on whether vaccinated people should wear masks especially as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a rise in coronavirus cases in Chicago.

Interim CPS Chief Executive Officer José Torres said CPS’ policy takes into account feedback from public health experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said this week that everyone older than 2 should wear a mask in schools even if they are fully vaccinated.

“Face coverings may be removed for outdoor activities, such as recess and some sports activities. 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,” Torres wrote in a letter to parents Thursday.

CPS said 3 feet of social distancing will be implemented where it’s possible. Some students will eat lunch in a classroom, while others will eat in their school cafeteria to allow for this distancing during mealtimes, the district said.

Air purifiers, hand sanitizer, cleaning, disinfecting and contact tracing are also part of CPS’ plan. In a statement, the Chicago Teachers Union emphasized the importance of a mask mandate and called for the city to improve in-person outreach in communities where vaccination rates are low.

Forty-seven percent of Chicago kids 12 to 17 had received their first vaccine dose as of Wednesday, with nearly 36% of that age group fully vaccinated, according to city data.

CPS students who want to be fully vaccinated for the start of school next month should get their first shot by this coming Monday, city health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said this week. The Pfizer vaccine is available to people 12 years and older. More than 90% of those hospitalized and 95% of those now dying from COVID-19 in Chicago are unvaccinated, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said this week.

Craig Amick said his daughter, a student at Amundsen High School on the North Side, is vaccinated. He expressed disappointment in CPS’ universal masking decision.

“I’d prefer they follow the CDC guidelines,” Amick said. “I’m not an anti-masker by any means, but I do know that my daughter is not happy about the fact that she’s vaccinated and is going to have to sit in a classroom for eight hours wearing a mask. She went back in the spring and had trouble hearing the teachers. It wasn’t a good experience.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued school guidance that said there should be at least 3 feet between students in classrooms when possible. Fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff don’t need face coverings inside classrooms, the CDC said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health “fully adopted” the CDC guidance, which left room for individual school districts to make their own safety decisions for the upcoming school year. The masking issue has become highly contentious in the suburbs, with some districts deciding to let parents choose if their child will wear a mask in the fall.

The Cook County Department of Public Health said Friday its “expectation is that schools will follow the CDC masking guidance, with all unvaccinated individuals masked consistently and correctly.” The health department “encourages” schools to take the stricter approach of following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

Radhika Dani said she’s OK with having her son, who is too young to be vaccinated, wear a mask to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln Park. She pointed to a fellow parent’s recent social media post on the masking debate.

“One of the parents was like, ‘They can have kids wearing clown shoes, and I would be fine with it as long as they’re going back every day.’ So I think it’s a pretty universal opinion among many parents. They just want their kids to go back, no matter what,” Dani said.

tswartz@tribpub.com

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