New CDC mask guidelines reignite school debate over mandate

Coronavirus

The latest CDC mask recommendations have some school districts scrambling to adjust their policies and decide on whether or not to impose a facial covering mandate.

Many schools will mandate masks this fall, but others are sticking to their policy of making them optional. 

“If it’s for the good of Chicago and its more safe, then I think we should wear masks,” says seventh-grader Stella Tate.

The middle schooler spent the majority of last year doing remote learning and said she is excited to be back in the classroom this fall – whether she has to wear a mask or not.  

“I would prefer to be in person wearing masks than online at home not wearing masks,” she said.

The CDC made a major reversal on masks – recommending all students and staff in K-12 schools wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status. The Illinois Department of Public Health said Tuesday that the state “fully aligns” with the CDC’s new guidelines.   

“IDPH completely supports that masking is absolutely the best way the more mask, the less transmission we know that when we had no vaccine, we had masks and we were still able to get things under control,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

Molly Ingraffia, who has students in both public and private schools, says she has received different guidelines from each institution.

“I believe in the vaccine. Our family is vaccinated,” she said. “I trust our school. I trust our leaders and what they put in place is really what we’ll follow and do it to the best of our abilities.”

Many suburban school districts have decided to make masks optional, despite warnings from public health agencies. WGN spoke with a Naperville-area attorney who says the decision could put the school at risk of a lawsuit.   

“Particularly, God forbid, if a child gets seriously ill because of exposure in school, that school district is exposed for having made a reckless decision,” said Shawn Collins.

Many people who spoke with WGN say masking up is a small price to pay to keep one another safe.   

“It’s something we all want to move beyond,” said parent John Fitzpatrick. “But it’s really a matter of ultimately safety of the kids and all that.”

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