Chicago Public Schools to drop mask mandate next week

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday it will transition to a mask-optional policy for students and staff starting next week.

CPS staff and students in pre-k through grade 12 will not be required to wear masks on school property beginning Monday, March 14.

The nation's third-largest school district cited decreasing COVID cases in schools and the city over the past few weeks as a big force behind the decision.

"CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask-optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities," CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. "We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together." 


CPS said over half of age-eligible CPS students have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Over 91 percent of CPS staff members are fully vaccinated.

CPS is encouraging the practice of mask wearing but will not enforce it on school property or on school buses.

The change will certainly draw pushback from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose members refused to teach in-person in January, promoting five days of canceled classes during negotiations over COVID-19 protocols.

In a letter to Martinez and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the union’s president said Friday that a mask optional policy "would be a clear violation" of the agreement that ended that standoff.

"If CPS moves toward making masks optional without bargaining to do so safely, this refusal to honor our agreement will have consequences," Jesse Sharkey wrote in the letter.

Chicago removed the indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28, aligning with federal and local guidance.

A downstate Illinois attorney announced a lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools over their continued face mask requirement earlier this month, arguing students are suffering from "continuing harm."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.