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Illinois Health Department FAQ Leaves Many Unanswered Questions For Schools

Coronavirus K-12 Education

On August 12, 2020, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued a “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” for Schools.” In a statement by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to stakeholders that same day, ISBE noted that it worked closely with IDPH on the FAQs, which supplement but do not replace ISBE’s Part 3 Joint Transition Guidance.

The FAQ addresses isolation of suspected and confirmed cases in the school environment, contact tracing, impacts of COVID concerns on certain classes and activities, including music and athletics, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, communication and reporting, travel limitations, and cleaning and disinfecting issues for schools, among other topics.

Some of the more surprising aspects of the FAQ include a broad reading of “close contacts” for purposes of contact tracing.  Specifically, the FAQ provides that a person has “close contact” with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID if that person was (with or without a face covering) within 6 feet of a confirmed or suspected case (with or without a face covering) for at least 15 minutes throughout the course of a day within 2 calendar days before the onset of symptoms (for asymptomatic person) or 2 calendar days before the positive sample was obtained (for an asymptomatic person).

The FAQ also contains two unexpected declarations concerning face coverings. First, the FAQ states that students with disabilities who are unable to wear a face-covering due to a medical contraindication may not be denied access to an in-person education if the school is offering in-person education to other students.  While the FAQ is correct in that an outright denial of access is not permitted, it ignores the central requirement of both IDEA and Section 504 –an individualized inquiry by an IEP or 504 team to review the needs of the student in regard to the inability to wear a face covering and then determine accommodations. We continue to recommend that schools engage in an IEP/504 process to determine accommodations for students that address goals but provide for the safety of the individual and the school community.  Second, in direct contradiction to informal guidance received from ISBE and Cook County Public Health officials, the FAQ states that face coverings must be worn at all times leaving out an exception for school staff working alone in their offices or classrooms.  We will be following-up with ISBE to seek clarity on this issue.  For more information on the ISBE guidance contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.