By Tracy Swartz Chicago Tribune

Chicago Public Schools students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, when they return to classrooms next month, the district announced Thursday.

“Based on feedback from our public health experts at the local, state and federal levels, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), we will require that masks/cloth face coverings continue to be worn indoors by everyone, regardless of vaccination status, except for while eating or drinking. This includes students, educators, support staff and all visitors to school buildings,” interim CPS Chief Executive Officer José Torres wrote in a letter to parents.ADVERTISING

“Face coverings may be removed for outdoor activities, such as recess and some sports activities. Continuing to require masks will help make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible.”

Principal Brian Kelly, right, greets Chicago Public Schools students returning for in-person learning at King College Prep on April 19, 2021. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

CPS said it will also try to ensure that 3 feet of social distancing is maintained wherever possible when schools reopen Aug. 30 for full-time instruction. The district said some students will eat lunch in a classroom, while others will eat in their school cafeteria to allow for social distancing during mealtimes.

Air purifiers, hand sanitizer, cleaning, disinfecting and contact tracing are also part of CPS’ plan. A representative for the Chicago Teachers Union was not immediately available for comment on the district’s announcement. Union leaders have been pushing for mask use while also calling for 80% of eligible students to be vaccinated by October.

The CPS news comes as Chicago sees a rise in coronavirus cases thanks to the highly contagious delta variant. More than 90% of those hospitalized and 95% of those now dying from COVID-19 in Chicago are unvaccinated, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said this week.

Forty-seven percent of Chicago kids 12 to 17 had received their first vaccine dose as of Wednesday, with nearly 36% of that age group fully vaccinated, according to city data.

CPS students who want to be fully vaccinated before the start of school next month should get their first shot by this coming Monday, city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said this week. The Pfizer vaccine is available to people 12 years and older.

Elsewhere in the city, the Chicago Archdiocese this week announced masks are not required for fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff members at its schools. Suburban school districts have also been taking up the highly contentious issue, with some deciding to let parents choose if their child will wear a mask in the fall.

Earlier this month, Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala issued a declaration mandating in-person learning in the fall with limited exceptions. The declaration was made as the Illinois Department of Public Health “fully adopted” school guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said schools should maintain at least 3 feet of distance between students within classrooms when possible. Fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff don’t need face coverings inside classrooms, the CDC said.

That guidance differs from the advice offered this week by the AAP, which said everyone older than 2 should wear a mask in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

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