SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health released new guidance for schools and local health departments Tuesday night. State officials hope the further guidance can keep in-person learning safe for all students and staff.
Gov. JB Pritzker also issued an executive order making minor changes to his previous order regarding exclusion from school. It states schools must contact trace to determine who should be excluded from institutions. The new order also clarifies schools shall exclude anyone with COVID-19 symptoms until they test negative or a minimum of 10 days.
The IDPH and ISBE documents include a one-page summary of the executive order and the latest emergency rules.
"The Executive Order and emergency rule are intended to support schools and clarify their authority to control the spread of COVID-19 in schools," the agencies wrote.
The executive order and emergency rule eliminate "modified isolation" and "modified quarantine" from the Communicable Disease Code. That further clarifies that exclusion from school should not be considered isolation or quarantine. Modified isolation and quarantine previously allowed students to continue in-person learning after coming in contact with someone who had COVID-19.
Allowing asmptomatic close contacts to stay in school
School districts no longer need court action to excluding students and school personnel or require testing and masking. Schools must also exclude close contacts for at least 14 days. However, a school’s local health department could recommend exclusion for 10 days or seven days with a negative test on day six.
Schools may now also allow asymptomatic close contacts to stay in school. However, that can only take place if both the close contact and person with COVID-19 properly wore masks during the exposure period. Asymptomatic close contacts must also test negatives on the first, third, and fifth days after their exposure to COVID-19.
Students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms must stay out of institutions until they are fever-free for 24 hours and go 48 hours without diarrhea or vomiting. ISBE and IDPH officials also provided a document for school leaders and public health departments to help them implement the exclusion protocols.
That document provides guidance for situations where students, faculty, or staff test positive, have COVID-19 symptoms, or become close contacts. It also highlights steps schools and local health departments should take if an outbreak occurs. The state provided flow charts showing the proper steps to address each situation.
Frequently asked questions about COVID protocols
The agencies also have a frequently asked questions document to help anyone confused about the changes. This could serve as a tool for school administrators, teachers, and parents. The document covers everything from the importance of vaccinations to the reasoning for testing and contact tracing.
It also touches upon the vaccine mandate in place for educators and other school staff. People can still refuse to get the vaccine. However, they must go through COVID-19 testing at least once per week.
The FAQ document also notes that individual schools may adopt testing or vaccination requirements that exceed the state's requirements.
"For example, a school may require that all school personnel, other than those with a religious objection or who have a medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccine, be fully vaccinated," stated ISBE and IDPH. "Likewise, a school may require more frequent testing than is prescribed by Executive Order 2021-22 and 23 Ill. Admin. Code 6."
Revised public health guidance for schools
ISBE and IDPH also released the latest public health guidance for schools Tuesday night. That document basically recaps the executive order, emergency rules, and vaccine requirements for teachers and staff.
"Students in Illinois and across the country returned safely to in-person learning throughout the 2020-21 school year with limited transmission occurring in school facilities due to students' and teachers' adherence to public health requirements," ISBE stated. "This guidance reflects what we have learned about preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in school settings, incorporates the efficacy of the vaccine, accounts for widespread availability of COVID-19 testing and the increasing number of students and educators who are fully vaccinated."
ISBE also noted that Illinois adopted the CDC's latest guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. The guidance applies to all public and private P-12 schools.