Due to unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19, Oak Park’s schools have had to be flexible and continually adapt to keep students, staff and families safe. While the Oak Park Department of Public Health is integrally involved in the discussions that lead to specific actions – including pausing in-person learning – the ultimate decision rests with school administrators who manage day-to-day operations. This web page is intended to provide answers and context to some of the most common questions about the Village’s role in the decision-making process.
Updated Feb. 18, 2022
Does the Feb. 17 appellate court ruling regarding school mask mandates affect Oak Park?
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul stated today that the school mask mandate “continues to apply to all persons not specifically named as plaintiffs” in the lawsuit, which includes all Oak Park public and private schools. Click here to read the Attorney General's statement. The Attorney General said that he will appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Oak Park Department of Public Health will continue to monitor the proceeding.
Does the Feb. 9 temporary restraining order against school mask mandates apply to Oak Park?
No. The recent temporary restraining order against the school mask mandate issued last week by a downstate judge only applies to those schools that were a party to the lawsuit. In a news release issued on Feb. 9, 2022, Gov. J.B. Pritzker affirmed that the mask mandate for public and private schools remains in place – click here to read the news release. The mask mandate still applies to all Oak Park public and private schools, Oak Park Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Chapple told the Village Board Monday during a discussion of the status of COVID-19 in Oak Park – click here to view the meeting. Oak Park public schools also have notified parents and staff that the mask mandate remains in place until further notice.
How are decisions made and who has the authority to make them?
The decision-making process involves state and local authorities, including the Office of the Governor, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Oak Park Department of Public Health. However, school administrators have the ultimate authority to decide whether and when to institute pauses to in-person learning, designated officially as adaptive pauses.
Can the Health Department overturn or reverse an adaptive pause?
No. School administrators have the ultimate authority to decide whether and when to take mitigation actions, including instituting adaptive pauses or returning to remote learning. The Oak Park Health Department provides consultation and recommendations, but cannot dictate school actions.
What is an adaptive pause – is it the same thing as a school closure?
Adaptive pauses and school closures are two separate things. Adaptive pauses allow for remote learning while school authorities consult with health authorities to better understand and address COVID-19 issues in a school or districtwide. During a school closure, remote learning does not happen – days missed must be made up in the summer or at another time.
When may an adaptive pause be implemented?
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, a school or school district may only enter into an adaptive pause in consultation with the local health department. Adaptive pauses may be implemented when a large number of new cases makes it difficult for schools and local health departments to conduct contact tracing to identify close contacts. An adaptive pause also is a tool to allow for time to address unsafe environments due to lack of masking and/or testing. An adaptive pause may not be implemented in response to school staffing shortages.
Why is contact tracing so important to keeping schools open?
Contact tracing helps to ensure individuals who are potentially infectious are excluded from school. If close contacts are vaccinated, then contact tracing identifies potentially infectious people who need enhanced mitigations while in school, such as spacing individuals further apart when unmasked when eating and drinking. This tool is essential to helping prevent the spread of the virus within a school.
Who is responsible for contact tracing?
The Illinois Department of Public Health took over all contact tracing for the general public as of Dec. 27, 2021. Certain facilities designated as high risk by the state, including schools, congregate care facilities, long-term care facilities and day care operations, conduct their own contact tracing with oversight from the local health department.
What was the Oak Park Health Department’s role in School District 97’s decision to take an adaptive pause in January?
The Oak Park Health Department consulted with School District 97 school leaders prior to the decision to institute a January adaptive pause. Hearing the concerns about contact tracing, social distancing and use of quality masks, the Health Department agreed with school leadership that an adaptive pause would be appropriate. The Health Department recommended a 10-day pause. However, the District 97 Board supported an adaptive pause for January 13 – 14 at its January 11 meeting. A recording of this meeting is available online. The adaptive pause discussion begins at the 1 hour 10-minute mark (1:10).