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St. Louis Public Schools to lift mask mandate, joining other districts

April Schaffer, of Collinsville, Ill., demonstrates against mask mandates on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, before a board meeting at the Collinsville CUSD 10 Administration Building in Collinsville, Ill. “As a concerned citizen and taxpayer I want to make sure the parents of Unit 10 get to take back the choices they’re making fo their kids,” she said while addressing the board. “No one wants to believe that this is a game of politics, but I have to ask: What do you think this looks like to all of these people? What does your council know that the surrounding cities don’t?”
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A demonstrator holds a sign advocating for parents to be able to make their own choices on COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates before a February school board meeting in Collinsville.

Updated at 4:30 p.m., March 3, with new mask policy for St. Louis Public Schools

Students and workers in St. Louis Public Schools will not be required to wear masks beginning Monday.

District leaders decided to lift the requirement after St. Louis health officials said they would not ask the Board of Aldermen to renew the city’s indoor mask mandate.

In an email to families and staff Thursday, SLPS officials said high vaccination rates and the declining number of coronavirus infections in St. Louis have allowed the district to move to a mask-optional policy.

School personnel will continue to closely monitor infection rates at individual schools and across the district and will be “prepared to seek immediate action for a shift in protocol from the Board of Education” if there is a spike in cases.

Masks will be mandatory for students and workers who are returning to school after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Original story:

Many local schools are recommending masks rather than requiring them as COVID cases continue to fall from their omicron peak and as state and county leaders relax policies.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that masks were no longer necessary indoors in areas that do not currently have high levels of COVID-19. That guidance also applies to schools.

As of this weekend, according to a new CDC map measuring risk levels, in Missouri, St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles and Phelps counties were all considered “medium risk," meaning the CDC would not recommend masks indoors. In Illinois, Jersey, Madison and St. Clair counties were all marked as “low risk." Adams County is at “high risk," according to the CDC.

In response to the new guidance, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced masks would be optional for all school districts in the state beginning Monday.

“Because the CDC has recommended that masks are needed only in areas of high transmission, the State of Illinois will move forward to remove our school mask mandate, effective Monday,” Pritzker said in a statement. “We will recommend that all school districts follow CDC guidance and will update our existing guidance in the coming days."

Some local districts in Illinois had already moved to make masks optional as a lawsuit moved through Illinois courts, including the Collinsville School District.

In recent weeks in Missouri, more than a dozen public school districts in the St. Louis region implemented mask-optional policies, including Rockwood, Parkway, Mehlville and Francis Howell.

Monday is also the first day that St. Louis County will no longer have a mask mandate in indoor, public spaces.

Public health officials indicate cases in schools are falling. Many large school districts’ public COVID-19 dashboards were reporting just a handful of positive cases at the end of last week.

“This is really a time for optimism,” said Amanda Brzozowski, senior epidemiologist with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “Are we in a great place? No. Are we trending well and downward? Yes. So I'm pretty happy right now.”

Monday is the first day masks will be optional in the Affton School District. The district reported just four cases among students and staff last week.

“It really has dropped dramatically, and that's why we feel like this is the window of opportunity to go ahead and put something new in place,” said Superintendent Travis Bracht.

Affton, like many districts in the area, has set a threshold for reimplementing masks; if a school goes above a certain percentage of positive cases in a school, it will require masks for a short period.

Public health officials say parents can keep children safe by getting them vaccinated and keeping them home from school if they don't feel well.

“If there are kids that are sick, keep them home,” Brzozowski said. “Going forward, that's going to be one of the most important things that we can do for COVID, but also for flu and norovirus and any other number of infectious diseases.”

Brzozowski also said schools know the risk in their own individual communities, and depending on factors like community vaccination rates, they may still require masks.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.
Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.