Masks

Elementary school students in face masks board a school bus after in-person classes in Wheeling, Ill., in November. 

Illinois’ more than 850 locally elected school boards will be making the call this fall on whether to require mask use in school buildings.

School districts are receiving suggested, rather than required, guidance from the state. The state’s guidance currently “recommends” face coverings in public indoor places for those who are unvaccinated, and masks are required on public transportation and in medical facilities.

The recommended masking guidance will be the same for schools after Illinois fully adopted recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Gov. JB Pritzker said the state will allow the mask decision to be made on the local level.

“You should make decisions that are appropriate for your communities,” said Pritzker. “Families should be involved in making decisions for their own families, and school districts and school boards will make decisions for the schools within their districts.”

In accordance with CDC guidelines, masks still will be required for all passengers on school buses, regardless of the school’s mask policies.

The guidance also recommends if school administrators remove any prevention strategies based on local conditions, they should do so “one at a time,” then monitor for any increases in COVID-19 cases.

Marsha McClary with the group Illinois Parents Union believes the decision to wear a mask in school should be left up to the parents and students.

“In the schools, the transmission rate has been close to zero,” McClary said.

Ted Dabrowski, president of the nonprofit Wirepoints, agreed. He wrote the risk is minimal.

“Let’s start with the number of kids under the age of 20 that have died in Illinois from COVID since March 2020. The total is 19. While the death of every child is tragic, those COVID deaths make up just 0.08 percent of the state’s nearly 23,000 COVID deaths,” Dabrowski said.

“Compare the 19 deaths to those from simple accidents. We let our kids ride bikes, go to the lake or drive cars, not realizing that those activities can result in far more deaths. In 2017, the latest full year of IDPH data for comparison, 143 kids died from accidents alone.

“With all the protections adults now have, it’s time for them to step up and give children as close to a return to normalcy as possible. Eliminating masks will be a huge step in that direction,” Dabrowski said.

Public health officials have warned about the spread of COVID-19, and its variants, in indoor environments, and some countries currently require mask use indoors.