Federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued last week created mild confusion about mask wearing. But the science of how it impacts New Trier High School is clear and no changes related to masks will go into effect this school year.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally said at the board of education’s meeting Monday, May 17, that New Trier will follow the CDC’s recommendation that schools should continue to use masks and social distance through the end of this school year, which ends in June.
New Trier adheres to guidance from the Illinois and Cook County health departments, officials said at the meeting, but neither agency has updated guidance with the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines.
Sally said district officials will continue to watch emerging studies and updated guidance from the CDC, which stated this week that fully vaccinated individuals can resume pre-pandemic activity except in certain group settings, such as schools.
“We know that we have a number of our students who are fully vaccinated,” Sally said. “(But) we have a larger number who are along the way and we have some who may not have started yet. It would be just too difficult to have the school manage masks or no masks.”
At least 50 percent of New Trier students ages 16 or older have received their COVID-19 vaccine, said Chris Johnson, New Trier’s associate superintendent, adding that approximately 88 percent of New Trier staff are vaccinated.
Neither the Illinois Department of Public Health nor the Illinois State Board of Education have released guidance regarding vaccinations for the 2021-22 school year, according to Sally, but New Trier officials are encouraging “everyone to go out and get vaccinated.”
New Trier cannot mandate that students get the vaccine via its own determination. The district is subject to whatever mandates IDPH and ISBE put in place, thus it cannot do more or less than what those agencies advise regarding vaccines.
“We will wait for that guidance this summer and communicate it clearly to families if there are things they need to consider when they’re moving on in the summer,” Sally said.
School officials are working on projections for how many New Trier students will likely be vaccinated by the start of next school year. Johnson said that if current trends continue, he expects that it will mirror staff levels and be close to 90 percent.
Attendance numbers are peaking at both of New Trier’s campuses as the district continues to develop its plans for required daily in-person attendance next school year.
Attendance at the Winnetka campus reached its highest percentage level on May 11 when 48 percent of students learned at school. At the Northfield campus, 66 percent of students attended school on both May 6 and 7.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.