CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools will lift the mask mandate for all students and staff next week, shifting to a mask optional plan beginning March 14.
CPS officials cited declining COVID-19 numbers and increasing vaccination rates in the district as the reason for making masks optional effective next week.
“CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask- optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together.”
“Chicago is at low risk for COVID-19 by every metric, including the historic and current metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” CPS officials said in a statement. “The city’s case counts and positivity are the lowest they have been since July 2021 and continue to fall.”
CPS said it will continue to encourage everyone to wear masks in schools, especially those with lower vaccination rates, but will also support those who choose not to wear a mask and, “will provide tools that teachers and parents can use to guide conversations with students about the importance of honoring and respecting everyone’s personal choice.”
“The adults in our school communities will set the tone during this transition,” said CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova. “I am confident that we will continue to support and respect one another through this next phase of the pandemic. Family and community situations may change and dictate if a student or staff member wears a mask and we all need to ensure that everyone feels welcome to continue the practice that makes them feel safest and most comfortable.”
The shift to masks optional at CPS flies in the face of a COVID-19 safety agreement the district negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union in January, after heated dispute over the return to classrooms from remote learning led to teachers walking out and the district cancelling five days of classes. That COVID-19 safety agreement between CPS and CTU required masks for all students, teachers, and staff through Aug. 26.
The union did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said any move to unilaterally lift the mask mandate at CPS would be a “clear violation” of the district’s COVID-19 safety agreement with the union.
“Furthermore, it would threaten the health and safety of many of our students, who remain a largely unvaccinated population in schools on the South and West sides,” Sharkey wrote.