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Olympia, Heyworth Schools Want To Make Masks Optional

Olympia water tower
Olympia Schools
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The Olympia school district plans to make masks optional to begin the 2021-22 school year.

At least two McLean County school districts plan to make masks optional for the upcoming school year.

Stanford-based Olympia schools in western McLean County will make masks optional for the upcoming school year, pending approval by the Olympia school board on July 26.

Superintendent Laura O'Donnell said the district believes students can safely go to school without masking up.

“Based on our data from last year, we saw very little transmission,” O’Donnell said. “I realize the kids were in masks. We all realize that, but the reality is our kids have been participating in travel sports all summer long, vacation bible school. Masks are not being worn.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently adopted guidance from the CDC that indicated those who are vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors, while urging all eligible children ages 12 and up to get the COVID vaccine.

Heyworth school superintendent Lisa Taylor said the district in southern McLean County also seek a mask-optional policy at its school board meeting on Wednesday.

Olympia schools will have full classrooms and full buses as schools return to a more conventional setting, but O'Donnell said she is concerned about crowded school buses. Students and staff will be required to wear masks on the bus. She also plans to encourage parents to use private transportation when possible to help students socially distance on the bus.

“If you have an option as a parent to not utilize our buses, then I would encourage you to not utilize our buses. The fewer kids we have on there the better,” said O’Donnell, noting 85% of teachers and teacher’s aides have been vaccinated — though vaccination rates among other staff is much lower. That includes bus drivers, custodians and food service workers.

“We’re a little concerned with some of the other departments in the district, quite frankly, that have much lower numbers,” O’Donnell said.

She said Olympia schools will be prepared to mandate masks, at least temporarily or among a specific group of students, if COVID cases spike or other health trends cause concern. O’Donnell added remote learning will not be an option in Illinois schools this year, since the state won’t count remote learning as a school day.

O’Donnell said Olympia schools will not require eligible students to get the COVID vaccine, but students who are considered a close contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus will not have to quarantine unless symptoms develop. That reflects CDC and (IDPH) guidance.

District 87 and Unit 5 schools have not yet set masks guidelines for the upcoming school year.

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