Illinois students safe at 3-foot distance, unless they are in Chicago

Illinois students safe at 3-foot distance, unless they are in Chicago

New COVID-19 guidance from Illinois health and education departments allows schools to reduce social distancing to three feet. But the Chicago Teachers Union intends to ‘vigorously’ keep a six-foot distance.

It’s no longer six feet, it’s only three feet of separation needed to avoid COVID-19 infection for Illinois students and vaccinated teachers returning to the classroom.

That is according to revised guidelines released by the Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But the new guidance rankled the Chicago Teachers Union, with Vice President Stacy Davis Gates tweeting: “To all the critics who failed to understand *why* @CTULocal1 worked hard to establish standards and memorialize guidance that keeps ppl safe in our agreement — read how *flexible* it all becomes when flouting *guidance* is NO longer a red state phenomena.”

While the Illinois Department of Public Health cites the revisions as necessary for a rapid return to in-person learning and based the new standard on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the union said it violates “basic and vital safety protection.”

The union’s school reopening agreement was “built on” the six-foot distancing guidance, CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis said. He called it “a basic and vital safety protection that we intend to continue to vigorously observe.”

The agreement reached between Chicago Public Schools and the CTU in February established that social distancing should require “6-foot physical distance from other persons as much as possible.” It was one of many issues in a protracted negotiation that delayed plans to reopen Chicago schools and put the city on the verge of another teacher strike.

The Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools was released March 10 by the ISBE and IDPH following updated guidance from the CDC that stressed schools as “an important part of community infrastructure.”

The guidance for schools “reflects what we have learned about the transmission of COVID-19 in school settings, as more students in Illinois and across the country have returned safely to in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year,” Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala stated. “This joint guidance supports the return to in-person instruction as soon as practicable in each community.”

The report revises initial recommendations on requiring masks with at least two layers and no vents. It also suspends the need for symptom screenings on school grounds and redefines social distancing as three feet, with six feet preferred.

The revised school guidelines also:

  • maintain that if a student or staff member has a confirmed case of COVID-19, anyone not vaccinated that has been within six feet of that person for a total of 15 minutes over 24 hours will be required to quarantine.
  • state in-person instruction “should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning.”
  • set capacity limits for schools, including during lunchtimes and other “nonacademic” activities that “are now determined by the space’s ability to accommodate social distancing, and not a set capacity limit number or percentage. Bus capacity remains at no more than 50 people per bus.”
  • recommend decisions on holding events outside of schools, “such as open houses, registration, prom, graduation ceremonies, and other extracurricular events, will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents, in consultation with local public health departments.” These events are still expected to follow safety protocols and current distancing standards.

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