Health experts recommend masks in schools, but some districts are waiting to make a decision

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Pencils, paper, and maybe masks. Some local school districts are weighing options and COVID policies for the fall.

“They have to represent their communities and what their communities need and want,” said Peoria Couty regional superintendent Beth Crider.

Some like Peoria Public Schools are mandating masks in the classroom. Others, like leaders at Dunlap, decided it’s optional. Crider said it’s a decision leaders aren’t making lightly.

“School districts in Peoria County have been making back-to-school plans since last year,” said Crider.

On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control updated its classroom guidance. It now recommends everyone should wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“Right now, it’s guidance and recommendations, but it could be a mandate, and so we know we may have to make some shifts in what our back-to-school policies are,” said Crider.

But many students under 12 can’t get a vaccine yet. Peoria health administrator Monica Hendrickson said there could be another surge of cases this fall, similar to last year.

“If we had gotten ahead of this over the summer, we would be coming into the fall in a different landscape. But sadly we did not see what we had hoped to see, taking advantage of an actual solution,” said Hendrickson.

She said fewer than 50% of people in Peoria County are vaccinated. She also said the health department is providing support and guidance for district leaders.

“We’re all looking and watching the data to see what happens. There’s a lot of things that could change between now and a few months,” said Hendrickson.

Crider said being able to adapt is key this school year.

“It’s going to require patience, flexibility, and us all working together to make sure our kids are safe when it’s time to come back to school this year,” said Hendrickson.

With class just weeks away, she said there’s pressure to finalize a plan. Superintendents across Peoria County meet Monday and Hendrickson will be at the meeting too.

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