Pritzker Answers School Quarantine Court Challenges with New Executive Order

By Benjamin Cox on September 21, 2021 at 11:32am

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker quietly issued an executive order on Friday updating language for schools regarding quarantine and isolation amidst ongoing legal challenges.

The new order changes how schools handle close contacts and confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19. School districts are now to “exclude” students from coming to school instead of relying on an official order of quarantine or isolation.

Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says it clarifies orders confusion after court rulings in Macoupin and Adams County on the state’s rules: “The governor and the ISBE definitely have the desire to keep all close contacts out of the physical schools, so in response to the legal challenges about the use of the term ‘quarantine,’ they have altered it with a new executive order to mandate to school districts that we must exclude students from schools who have been determined to be a close contact. We are no longer issuing a quarantine. The health department isn’t issuing a quarantine. We are excluding those individuals from the physical school, and that is mandated and it says we must follow it.”

Ptacek says this circumvents the necessity of a local health department or court order to issue a quarantine order. Ptacek says the district has received a statement from the Illinois State Board of Education that they will enforce the rule based upon further clarification in the Executive Order granting them the authority of enforcement.

Ptacek says the district is working on a “test-to-stay” program to help keep close contact students at school if they are not showing any symptoms: “We have a company that we are procuring some dates with. We have to then send permission slips out, and I want to highlight that we will only be testing students that parents grant us permission [to test]. I was asked by a parent in an email ‘What if they don’t grant permission?’ If they don’t, then the test-to-stay option is not there. Therefore, if they become a close contact, they would have to be excluded for the 14-day period or if the public health department were to decide that time should be shorter. The test-to-stay gives an option to test on days 1, 3, 5, and 7 – and if you continue to receive a negative test, you will be able to stay in school. Now that’s the only option open for close contacts. Of course, if someone is exhibiting symptoms that’s not an option. We hope to have permission slips out maybe next week or the week after in hopes of having this implemented by mid-October.”

Ptacek says the district will be providing asynchronous remote instruction for excluded students, and parents should contact their student’s building administrator for a device or assistance in remote instruction.

In a follow-up email message to parents, Ptacek says that the district will be providing the test-to-stay option in-house by hiring a part-time nurse to administer testing at various buildings in a rotation. Ptacek says this avenue will get the test-to-stay option rolling much sooner in hopes of keeping more students in school. Ptacek says the test-to-stay option will only be available to close contacts that occur at school. Ptacek says if the contact occurs with someone outside of school, test-to-stay will not be made available to that individual. Ptacek also emphasized in the email that an asymptomatic vaccinated individual does not have to be excluded from school. He says the new executive order clarifies this.

The executive order can be read here.