FULTON, Ill. — Students and staff at Fulton schools will have to wear face coverings at all times when they return to class in the fall.
Face shields cannot be substituted for masks except when other methods of protection are not available, the Illinois State Board of Education said this week.
Fulton staff had hoped that face shields rather than masks would be allowed for students returning to school in the fall, River Bend School District Superintendent Darryl Hogue said Wednesday, but the State Board clarified this week that it would not accept face shields as a substitute for masks.
Last week the State Board said face shields were allowable, said Hogue. Now it says they aren’t. “Plans get made, and we have to undo those plans.”
The River Bend School District plans to return to school on site Wednesday, Aug. 19. “We have a return-to-learn planning team that consists of district staff and teachers,” said Hogue.
The committee got through about half of a 21-item agenda this week, Hogue said, but everything is tentative.
“We’re looking at anything that allows students to breathe better than a mask,” said Hogue, whatever the state department of health will allow. Students can see teachers’ faces better if teachers wear shields rather than masks, Hogue said. “We think [shields] would be better.”
Plans must be approved by the State Board of Education before classes begin. “We have a month and a half before that takes place,” said Hogue.
“Face shields are not effective protection against coronavirus and should only be used in situations when other methods of protection are not available,” says the State Board of Education, but the Illinois Department of Public Health realizes that a few people may have medical conditions that make wearing a mask unadvisable.
In that case, face shields may be used with a strict adherence to social distancing, says the Board. It recommends that schools obtain a physician’s note from anyone who requests an exemption from wearing a face covering.
If teachers or students need facial visualization for instruction or communication, the State Board recommends video instruction to promote social distancing. If that is not available or appropriate, face shields may be used, but the Board stresses that “they have not been deemed effective for source control.”
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is providing 2.5 million cloth masks to Illinois public schools to ensure that all students and staff have masks, the State Board said.
Schools cannot use dividers around desks in lieu of face coverings, but they can use the dividers around desks of students or staff members who have received approved exemptions, the State Board says.
Face coverings do not need to be worn outside if individuals are 6 feet apart at all times.
The State Board requires that social distancing be observed as much as possible in classrooms. Desks do not need to be 6 feet apart, but excess furniture should be removed to allow as much space as possible between desks.
Fulton school officials think they will be able to fit all students into classrooms and meet state guidelines by moving desks around, Hogue said. The District hopes to have full attendance every day rather than using a hybrid model of attendance that keeps some students home, attending class online, certain days of the week.
“Our goal is to have all the kids every day,” Hogue said.
During the first couple of weeks, a smaller group of students may attend each day to see how things work, said Hogue. “After Labor Day, the goal is to have all students on sight every day. If families are comfortable with that.”
Some families may not be comfortable with their children returning to school, said Hogue. “We will have to accommodate those who aren’t comfortable with it.”
Transportation will change in the district as well. “The state has allowed us up to 50 ... on the bus,” said Hogue. “We have a couple of routes that are over 50.”
Social distancing should be practiced on the bus as much as possible. The State Board suggests that children who live in the same households sit together on the bus, providing distancing between children of different families.
The District sent surveys to families asking if they are comfortable with their children riding the buses, Hogue said. The District will set policy when those surveys are returned.
“We anticipate providing transportation to families, and we anticipate them needing to wear masks and face shields,” said Hogue. “We also have to accommodate for screenings. There has to be some sort of screening, temperature checks,” said Hogue.
The IDPH also suggests limiting how many students are in hallways at one time, limiting movement between classes, having a limited number of people in bathrooms at any time, creating one-way paths in hallways and staircases, placing 6-foot-distancing marks on the floors and removing furniture that would encourage gatherings.
Sharing lockers should be prohibited, and schools should suspend the use of lockers if possible, the IDPH says.
“The United States has not experimented with kids returning to school yet, so we don’t know what will happen,” said Hogue. “Until we know, we need to take it slow for the safety of the students, for the staff and the families.”