Mask Mandate Returns for Lower and Middle Schools


Latin School of Chicago

Latin Lower School Students learning with masks on

Following an uptick in active COVID cases at Latin, mask mandates have returned for the Lower School and Middle School. An email from Latin’s COVID Response Team “strongly encouraged” masking for the Upper School as well.

In addition to masking, the Lower School requires all community members to test twice a week through Northshore Clinical Labs.

The decision to return to a mask policy is surprising to many, having come amid many mandate removals, such as on Chicago Public Transport. The difference from the Chicago norm implies a decision influenced by more than the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), which Latin has heavily based its COVID regulations on.

Latin’s Senior Medical Consultant Dr. Leslie Cordes said, “When making the decision to ask a class, grade or division to return to masking, the COVID team takes several factors into account. We evaluate the reported cases and consider if there are any links between the cases.” Dr. Cordes defined three or more linked cases as a school outbreak.

At the beginning of March, many Latin students and faculty took off their masks after the school became mask-optional, following changes in CDC guidelines. The mandate removal sparked varied responses, and the Latin School Union’s (LSU) request for the mandate lift to be pushed back was denied.

Upper School Latin teacher and President of the LSU Elissabeth Legendre said, “While the union was not involved in the decision to move back to requiring students to wear masks in the Middle or Lower School, we support and applaud all of the hard work of the COVID Alert Team and everyone else involved in making decisions about keeping our community members safe.”

Sophomore McLean Moroney said, “I think that the Lower School mask mandate should continue until the majority of the population is fully vaccinated with their boosters, like the Upper School.”

According to Latin’s COVID policy, “[a mask optional] policy will remain in place as long as the region remains in the low or medium level of community COVID-19 metrics.” However, the city of Chicago’s COVID risk level is low.

Dr. Cordes said, “While our school is located in Cook County, which continues to be designated as a low [risk] community according to CDC metrics, we do need to be responsive to our in-school transmission patterns.” She added, “Our response is in line with Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance, and our team is in frequent conversations with members of the [CDPH] school health team regarding appropriate mitigation strategies in response to outbreaks.”

It may be worth noting that even while Chicago reports hundreds of new cases per day, daily hospitalizations are decreasing, raising the question of whether increased mitigation measures should be implemented in school at the expense of normal social interactions among Latin’s youngest students.

As of May 1, Latin’s COVID dashboard reports 24 active cases in the Lower School and 13 in the Middle School. The school has no particular case volume that triggers a mask mandate. Instead, Dr. Cordes said, “We will want to observe the identified viral ‘hot spots’ for approximately two viral incubation periods—about two to three weeks.”

Because there does not appear to be a definite indicator for when to require masks, the future of the mandate is tentative for all areas of the school.

McLean said, “I don’t think that an Upper School mask mandate is necessary.” As of May 1, the Upper School has 17 active cases. Still, McLean said, “If we are asked to wear [masks], we follow directions.”

Freshman Maddy Levy said, “I feel like [having a mask mandate] depends on what the school wants. Do they want to try to stop all cases, or do they want to see [the rise of cases] through and see if it goes away?” Dr. Cordes did note that an ideal number of zero cases is out of the realm of possibility.

“Our goal is to return to the mask-optional status as soon as we have effectively contained identified outbreaks,” Dr. Cordes said. “As we’ve noted throughout the pandemic, we are continuously balancing and reassessing our strategies with the goal of keeping students safe and healthy and learning in school.”