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Return to School Letter 2021-22

July 29, 2021
 
Dear CHSD 218 Community:
 
I hope this message finds you well. Believe it or not, we are just weeks away from the start of the 2021-22 school year! I want to share with you some important information about this year. Though we are in a much better place with the pandemic than we were a year ago, it is important to recognize that COVID-19 will still have an impact on day to day life in our schools. You are probably aware that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) just recently revised their recommendations for schools to reopen. Most of those revisions centered on the need to wear masks indoors in our schools. Both the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Cook County Health Department have agreed with those revisions. Let me outline some general information about what you can expect for our school opening.
 
CHSD 218 is planning a full return to in-person instruction this fall.
 
While we believe a return to school can happen safely, there are still precautions we need to take as a school community to ensure the safest environment for staff to teach and for our students to learn. For starters, the most effective action we can take as a school community is to get vaccinated! Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong, recent evidence suggests that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to have an asymptomatic infection or transmit COVID-19 to other people who are not fully vaccinated. People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at low risk of symptomatic or severe infection. While we will have other safety measures in place, we can’t stress enough how important it is for the entire school community to get vaccinated.
 
The biggest revisions in the CDC guidelines are focused on the necessity of wearing masks when indoors at our schools. This will make some people very happy and others very unhappy. But we will not argue about the science here. No matter what we believe, we do know that enforcing a mask requirement is the best pathway to allow us to open our schools to in-person learning and help inch us closer to a normal school environment. We believe this is crucial for providing a quality education for our students. Many of us do not want to wear masks. But we want to return to in-person schooling even more. We want to remain positive as we move forward with the start of a new school year and hope that mitigations are decreased as conditions improve.
 
Here is a short summary of some additional pertinent information that you need to know for the upcoming school year:
  • Students and staff should expect to return to school in person this fall.
  • Based upon the recent recommendations of the CDC and IDPH guidelines, all students and staff members will be required to wear masks until further notice.
  • All individuals who are fully vaccinated and show no COVID-19 symptoms will not be required to quarantine when exposed to a positive close contact for COVID-19.
  • Per the CDC Order, all individuals are required to wear a mask while on the school bus.
  • CHSD 218 classrooms and buildings will maintain three feet of social distancing, when possible.
  • CHSD 218 will request voluntary submission of vaccination verification.
  • If a student is medically ineligible/unable to attend in-person school, parents/guardians can work with their medical doctor to apply for homebound instruction. The Illinois State Board of Education’s application form is available on the ISBE website or click here.
  • IMPORTANT: Please note that CHSD 218’s mitigation strategies for COVID-19 can be adjusted or changed based on outbreaks, increasing trends in the school/community, local vaccination levels, and the feasibility of these strategies.
MASK USAGE
  • Please let us not fight about masks! This distracts us from our primary mission of teaching and learning in the classroom.
  • Based upon the recent recommendations of the CDC and IDPH guidelines, all students, staff members, and visitors will be required to wear masks until further notice.
  • Per the CDC Order, masks must be worn by everyone on the school bus.
  • Masks are not recommended to be worn outdoors except by unvaccinated individuals who are in a particularly crowded area, or are participating in an activity that sustains close physical contact.
OTHER MITIGATION MEASURES
  • All CHSD 218 buildings will maintain at least three feet of physical distance, when possible.
  • School water fountains will remain disabled. Students and staff members should plan to bring their own water bottles for the day. Water refill stations will remain open.
  • CHSD 218 has purchased iWave Air Purification systems for each school. The purification systems are attached to each school’s air handling systems and help eliminate polluted air, germs and viruses such as COVID-19. The iWave devices have already been installed in large areas, such as cafeterias, LRCs, office areas, theaters, band and choral rooms. Additionally, air purifiers will be installed in classrooms by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The district continues to encourage proper hand washing and respiratory etiquette. Hand sanitation stations will still be available throughout CHSD 218 buildings.
  • CHSD 218 will continue to regularly clean and disinfect its buildings with practices and products approved by the CDC.
  • Students and staff members should continue to stay home when they are sick and alert their school if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
SCREENING AND TESTING PROGRAM IN CHSD 218
  • CHSD 218 will be partnering with SHIELD Illinois to provide COVID SHIELD screening for unvaccinated students. CHSD 218 will also provide BinaxNOW rapid antigen COVID-19 testing for symptomatic staff and students.
  • CHSD 218 will not require self-certification for any of its students or staff members.
  • CDC guidance provides that individuals who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in testing and are also not required to quarantine if they have zero symptoms.
  • Students and/or staff members who are unvaccinated and displaying COVID-19 symptoms must quarantine for ten days or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
  • Regardless of vaccination status, proper notification will continue to be given to students and staff members in the case that they have been exposed to COVID-19. Additionally, rooms will continue to be disinfected and cleaned within 24 hours after potential COVID-19 exposure.
CHSD 218 will re-evaluate these measures as the first semester progresses. Please note that CHSD 218’s mitigation strategies for COVID-19 can be adjusted or changed based on outbreaks, increasing trends in the school/community, local vaccination levels, and the feasibility of these strategies.
 
There is a lot to digest here and we are fully cognizant that the mask mandate will upset some people. We do not want to fight and get political over this issue. More than ever, we think it is important that we get students back into our schools for in-person learning. If the current guidelines say that students should wear masks, we are going to require that so we can keep our doors open and allow our students to receive some badly needed in-person instruction. If you have questions about anything, please contact your building principal.
 
In spite of some of these obstacles, we are very excited for the new school year. We hope you are too! Welcome back everyone!
 
Sincerely,
 
Dr. Ty Harting
Superintendent of Schools
CHSD 218
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