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This Illinois school district defied the mask order. Now it has an outbreak

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Two metro-east school districts that were on state probation for failing to comply with the statewide mask mandate have had their recognition status fully restored, but one has switched to remote learning due to a COVID outbreak.

State recognition status for Carlyle CUSD 1 in Clinton County was restored Aug. 31, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The local school board voted to amend the return-to-learn plan to require masks at a special meeting Aug. 23. The state has also restored the recognition status of the Red Bud CUSD 132 in Randolph County after its school board voted to comply with the mask mandate Aug. 19.

On Aug. 26, just days before the state restored Carlyle's status, the district announced it would start remote learning on Aug. 27, due to a large increase in positive student COVID cases throughout the district.

Students are scheduled to return to campus on Tuesday, according to the superintendent's office. All three Carlyle campuses were flagged as being in outbreak status, with positive COVID cases still increasing, according to a letter from Superintendent Annie Gray to district families.

Gray did not immediately respond to a phone message Thursday.

In the initial back to school letter sent to parents Aug. 12, Gray wrote that masks would be "recommended, even encouraged, but not required for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated."

Nearly 30% of Carlyle's 1,004 students had to quarantine because they either tested positive for COVID or were considered a close contact as of Aug. 27, according to the district. While fifty-four students have tested positive, only one school staff member tested positive for COVID, and no others had to quarantine.

Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine, but the cases Carlyle reported were more prevalent among older students, at the junior high and high schools.

In Clinton County, where Carlyle is the county seat, few youth cases were reported over the summer. Around the end of July, though, new weekly cases sharply rose, first from one or two weekly cases in youths ages 5-17 to 10 weekly cases, then to weekly cases in the 20s and 30s, according to data from the state health department.

Youth case data from the state health department is updated on a lag, so the most recent data available only extends through Aug. 21. The outbreak in Carlyle is not yet reflected in the data.

The Illinois Department of Public Health's school outbreak data does not include an exact number of cases, but breaks it into ranges: fewer than five, between five and 10, between 11 and 16, and more than 16.

Besides Carlyle, the only other school outbreak denoted as having more than 16 cases in the last 30 days is Staunton CUSD 6 in Macoupin County. Staunton went remote for an "adaptive pause" in August after nearly 100 students had to quarantine, and returned to school in-person on Monday.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education's summary, Red Bud and Carlyle were sent their probation notice letters Aug. 12. Since then, the state board has continued to send out notice letters to others, with the most recent being sent to Brownstown CUSD 201 in Fayette County on Aug. 27. Of the 59 school districts listed, 19 have not yet had their recognition status fully restored.

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