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ISBE and IDPH Update COVID-19 School Guidance

Education K-12 Education

New Guidance Documents:

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently issued the following updated guidance documents related to return to in-person instruction and COVID-19 mitigation:  

This guide updates the Part 5 guidance originally issued in August 2021. The guidance emphasizes that schools must resume fully in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year and that schools should promote and/or provide, where possible, COVID-19 vaccination for eligible staff and students. However, the updated September guidance differs significantly from the previous version with regard to vaccination and testing requirements for school personnel, close contacts, and exclusion protocols and contact tracing requirements. 

Updates to the FAQ are identified in red text. The questions and answers get into some of the more practical implementation issues facing schools, especially in light of the recent requirements related to vaccination, testing, and exclusion.  

The guidance walks through four scenarios and provides the steps the school and local health department will follow; it also includes flow charts to demonstrate the steps and decisions. 

  1. Student or staff test positive: exclude from in person attendance and conduct contact tracing; includes criteria to return to school.  
  2. Student or staff have COVID-like symptoms: exclude from school; includes criteria to return as well as when household members must also be excluded. 
  3. Students and staff who are close contacts to a confirmed case: identify and exclude close contacts; includes criteria to return to school.  
  4. Outbreak response: defines an outbreak, provides strategies to mitigate, including testing and an adaptive pause.   
  • Fact Sheet regarding Executive Order 2021-24 and 77 Ill. Admin. Code 690.361
    • This document provides a one-page summary of the exclusion requirements provided for in EO 2021-24, updated by 2021-25, as well as the emergency regulations. It reiterates schools’ authority to exclude students and school personnel from school premises when they are a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, a close contact to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 


Guidance Highlights:

The new guidance documents emphasize providing in-person learning with appropriate protective measures. In addition, they provide further clarification regarding Governor Pritzker’s recent Executive Orders, as well as new emergency administrative rules implementing these orders. The guidance makes clear that even though in-person instruction is expected, schools will not be returning to pre-pandemic operations and will need to continue assessing risks associated with the spread of COVID-19. Highlights are outlined below.  

Vaccination and/or Testing Requirements for School Personnel 

  • All school personnel are required to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing pursuant to Executive Order 2021-22.  
    • Schools and school districts must require fully vaccinated school personnel to submit proof of vaccination and must maintain a record for school personnel that identifies each employee as fully vaccinated, unvaccinated, or excluded from the premises. Schools and districts must also maintain results of COVID-19 tests for those school personnel that are not fully vaccinated. 
    • Per the FAQ, unvaccinated school personnel with documented COVID-19 infection in the last 90 days are exempt from the weekly testing requirement. This exception is not indicated in the EO. 
    • Provides details related to testing options for unvaccinated school personnel. 


Exclusion Protocols, Close Contacts, and Contact Tracing 

  • Pursuant to Executive Order 2021-24, schools and districts must exclude students and school personnel who are (1) confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases; (2) are close contacts; or (3) who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.  
  • “Exclude” means a school’s refusal to admit onto school premises, extracurricular events, or any other event organized by the school regardless of whether an isolation or quarantine order from a local health department has been issued or expired. 
  • Schools must also exclude and/or refuse admittance to school personnel who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and fail to comply with the testing requirements pursuant to Executive Order 2021-22. 
  • Schools must provide remote instruction to students who are excluded pursuant to Executive Order 2021-24. 
  • The following individuals are not considered close contacts:  
    • Students within 3-6 feet of a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case in the classroom setting if both parties were consistently masked during the entire exposure period.  
    • Individuals who are fully vaccinated or individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days and are asymptomatic. 
    • Individuals solely exposed outdoors. 
    • For students on school transportation, contacts within 3-6 feet do not require exclusion if both students were consistently masked and windows were opened or HEPA filters were in use. 


  • Schools must conduct their own contact tracing to determine if students or school personnel must be excluded. Schools should also institute a tracking process to monitor individuals excluded from school because they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. 
  • Household members: For an individual with COVID-19 symptoms but without a high suspicion that the ill person has COVID-19 (close contact or loss of taste and smell), household members may remain at school with consistent use of well-fitting masks so long as the ill person is tested within 24 hours of symptoms. If the ill person tests positive or is not tested within 24 hours, household members must be excluded from school.  

Return to School/Test to Stay 

  • Students and school personnel subject to mandatory exclusion are subject to the following return procedures:  
    • Confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases must be excluded for a minimum of 10 days following the onset date (if symptomatic) or date of test (if asymptomatic), or as otherwise directed by a local health authority. 
    • Close contacts must be excluded for a minimum of 14 days, or as otherwise directed by a local health authority. Schools may also permit asymptomatic close contacts on school premises through Test to Stay. 
    • Symptomatic individuals must be excluded for a minimum of 10 days (or receive a negative COVID test) and until they are fever free for 24 hours and until 48 hours after diarrhea or vomiting have stopped. 


  • Test to Stay may be used for indoor exposures (except household exposures) for students and staff that are not fully vaccinated where both the COVID-19 case and close contact were engaged in consistent mask use for the entire exposure period.  
    • Close contacts must be tested on days one, three, five, and seven from the date of exposure with a NAAT (such as PCR test) or rapid antigen test with Emergency Use Authorization. If the close contact tests negative, they may remain in the classroom. Testing must be conducted in school; if the identified dates fall on the weekend or a holiday, testing should be conducted at the earliest possible opportunity.  
    • Individuals engaging in test to stay must maintain physical distancing (3-6 feet in class, 6 feet during lunch) and masking for 14 days 


Other Mitigation 

  • Masking: Universal masking is required indoors by students, staff, and visitors unless a specific exemption applies. This requirement extends to the school bus and during extracurricular activities. 
    • Includes reference to a CDC brief supporting the use of masks to control the spread of COVID-19 and that the research found no significant adverse health effects for wearers. 
  • Symptom screening: Daily symptom screening at school or attestation of screening at home are no longer recommended.  
  • Outbreaks: An outbreak is defined as two or more COVID-19 infections among staff or students within 14 days that are epidemiologically linked through school. Outbreak testing is strongly recommended for schools with an outbreak. Large outbreaks of COVID-19 may require a temporary school closure/adaptive pause, at the discretion of school leaders in consultation with the local health department. 
  • Travel: Unvaccinated students are not required to self-quarantine after travel. However, it is recommended that they get tested 3-5 days after travel, monitor for symptoms, and follow relevant guidance if they test positive or if symptoms later develop. Local travel restrictions may be more stringent.  


For more information about the implementation of the ISBE/IDPH guidance, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.