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Chicago Public Schools will require masks — but three feet of social distancing is not guaranteed

A young boy wearing a blue face mask and a gray shirt looks at a book. Next to him a young girl with a yellow face mask and a pink shirt looks at another book. Both are at a lime green desk or table.

When the new school year begins, students, educators, and visitors will be required to wear masks in Chicago Public Schools buildings.

Youngrae Kim for Chalkbeat

Students, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks inside Chicago’s public school buildings during the upcoming academic year, regardless of vaccination status, district officials announced Thursday. 

District leaders said ensuring access to full-time in-person learning this fall is its “highest priority,” in line with state, local, and national health guidance. Chicago Public Schools, however, will not guarantee three feet of social distancing at all times due to school population and classroom constraints.  

The updated set of safety measures come as parents express concern about district reopening plans and just days after city officials sounded the alarm about the highly contagious delta variant. The state school board has said masks can be optional for vaccinated students and teachers, but local administrators can set more strict rules. Debates have erupted in some suburban districts about mask requirements.

Masks will not be mandatory while eating or drinking indoors, or during outdoor activities like recess and sports, the district said in the email to parents and staff.

The school system will enforce three feet of social distancing “wherever possible.” While eating meals, students will be divided between cafeterias and other spaces, such as classrooms, to facilitate three feet of distance. Where distance is not possible, schools will rely on safety measures, including air purifiers, hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, contact tracing, and cloth face coverings.

“Based on widespread scientific consensus, we know that proven strategies like the ones announced today will keep students healthy, safe and supported,” said the email, signed by interim schools chief Jose Torres. 

The district said Thursday it would update health protocols when necessary according to public health guidance. 

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