The long-standing 6-feet social distancing rule for Illinois schools has been halved to 3 feet, part of loosened guidelines unveiled by state education and health departments that say the new rules are needed for a rapid return to the classroom.
In a letter posted on the Illinois State Board of Education website, Superintendent Carmen Ayala said the revised 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.”
“This joint guidance supports the return to in-person instruction as soon as practicable in each community,” Ayala said.
Among the easing of COVID-19 restrictions outlined in the 22-page document are revised recommendation for social distancing for in-person learning, which is now defined as “3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff,” Ayala said.
“Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning,” she said, adding that, “Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible because adults remain more susceptible to infection than children.”
Six feet of social distancing must still be strictly maintained in situations where face masks are removed, such as during lunch, which is considered one of the higher-risk activities in school. Otherwise, except for those who have medical exemptions, face masks are required at all times, and the guidance calls for masks of at least two layers without any vents.
In addition, Ayla said “the IDPH and the CDC no longer recommend symptom screenings on the school grounds, but schools may continue this practice if preferred.”
Families of students who are at “increased risk of severe illness (including those with special health care needs) or who live with people at increased risk must be given the option of remote instruction,” Ayala said.
“In March of last year is when we had to make the difficult decision to suspend in-person instruction statewide. ... One year later, I am grateful and encouraged to see us rounding the corner,” Ayala added.
The Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools was prompted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently updated guidance that underscores that schools are “an important part of community infrastructure.”
“In-person instruction promotes learning recovery along with the well-being of students and families, and that schools therefore ‘should be the last settings to close ... and the first to reopen when they can do so safely,’” Ayala said, referring to a recent CDC announcement.