Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is dropping its mask mandate and shifting to a mask-optional policy as of Monday, March 7.
In a Friday night email to families, the district said it had made the decision “based on declining COVID-19 cases within our community and high local vaccination rates.”
The state of Illinois is set to lift its mask mandate on Monday, Feb. 28 and the City of Evanston and Evanston Township High School District 202 have announced they will take similar action on the same date, though the ETHS teachers’ union has objected to the school’s plan.
District 65 students will continue to be required to wear masks while riding the school bus, the Friday email said, and it noted the overall mask-optional policy would have exceptions at JEH Early Childhood Center, Park School and the Rice Children’s Center.
Following is the full text of the email:
Dear District 65 Community,
In consultation with our local health department, medical advisors, legal team, and administration, we have made the decision to update our guidance to highly recommend (and not mandate) individuals wear masks while indoors at school district buildings. This will go into effect on Monday, March 7, 2022. Please note the exceptions listed below.
We have included several FAQs below to help our community better understand this decision-making and transition. We appreciate your continued patience, understanding, and flexibility and will continue to share updates as they are available. Enjoy your weekend.
With health in mind,
Dr. Devon Horton (he/him)
Why was this decision made?
This decision is based on declining COVID-19 cases within our community and high local vaccination rates (96% ages 5+ in Evanston with one dose; 86% fully vaccinated). Further, this guidance is aligned to the updated masking policies of both the City of Evanston and Evanston Township High School, as well as those of many surrounding school districts.
Does this apply in all D65 schools?
Masks continue to be required in the following schools:
- JEH Early Childhood Center and Park School (with the exception of those who have approved mask exemptions)
- Masks required for staff and recommended for students (in alignment with residential guidelines) at the Rice Children’s Center
The decision for continued masking at these schools is aligned to guidance issued for daycares and early childhood programs. In addition, special consideration is being given for medically fragile students at Park School.
Are there any other circumstances where masks are still required?
Yes, state guidance continues to require masks in the following situations:
- Individuals returning from isolation or quarantine (days 6-10)
- All individuals riding the school bus
Why is the District waiting until March 7 when the mask mandate is ending in many places on February 28?
We recognize that this is going to be a significant change for children and adults alike and want to be mindful of this transition. While some members of our community will be excited about this shift, it may cause anxiety and stress for others. About one-third of our students only know schools with masks and we are very conscious of the effects of this transition. Waiting until March 7 will allow time for families and educators to socialize this idea with students.
Is this a permanent change or could masks be required again in the future?
Each school district has the authority to set mitigation measures in response to the evolving nature of the pandemic. It is very possible that masks could be required indoors once again if a new state or local mandate is put back into place or if local conditions warrant it such as transmission rises within our community or if there is an outbreak in schools or classrooms. District 65 will continue to monitor local metrics (local hospitalizations, ICU bed availability, community transmission, and positivity rate) in consultation with local health departments and medical advisors and decisions will be based accordingly.
Can individuals still wear a mask?
Of course. Masks continue to be recommended. Masking, especially with a well-fitting cloth mask, KN95 or KN94 mask, has proven to be an effective measure in preventing COVID-19. In addition, masking and vaccination are important ways that we can continue to help protect immunocompromised individuals and those who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
District 65 continues to have KN95 masks for students and staff who would like to wear one and are available by checking with the school office.
How will the District support the transition?
Resources are being compiled to support sharing circles, social stories, and other ways of discussing with students. We encourage both families and staff within the buildings to talk with students about being respectful and honoring everyone’s personal choice – whether that’s wearing a mask or not wearing one.
Will other mitigations remain in place?
Yes. All of our existing mitigation measures will remain in place which includes 3-foot distancing or to the greatest extent possible, weekly SHIELD Testing, contact tracing and quarantining according to Illinois Department of Public Health guidance, regular cleaning, maintaining ventilation enhancements, staying home when sick, and encouraging hand hygiene. In addition, we hope that in a few weeks we will be on the verge of some warmer temperatures and can begin opening windows and enjoying outside time on a more frequent basis.