District 231 board facing mask decision

The Rochelle School District 231 Board of Education held its monthly meeting Tuesday evening, when several parents voiced their opinions about making masks optional for students this coming school year. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Parents voice support for optional masking this coming school year

ROCHELLE — Nearly every chair inside the Lincoln Elementary School cafeteria was filled Tuesday evening, when several local parents voiced their opinions about whether or not students in Rochelle School District 231 should be required to wear masks in school.

The discussion took place during the monthly District 231 Board of Education meeting, where parents addressed Superintendent Jason Harper and board members about making masks optional for students this coming school year. The Illinois Department of Public Health recently adopted guidance from the CDC that states masks should be worn in schools by all individuals ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC also recommends maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms.

“I’m representing a local group here in Rochelle that includes around 250 like-minded individuals,” said Jackie Ramsey, an instructional support teacher at Rochelle Middle School. “Our main goal is to urge optional masking during the fall that shouldn’t be dependent upon vaccine eligibility… These are personal decisions that should be made by the parents.”

District 231 did not take any action regarding mask policies for the upcoming school year. Harper said the board and school administrators are still awaiting additional guidance from IDPH and the Illinois State Board of Education before potentially making a decision next month.

“We’ve had a rollout from the state level that’s been fumbled from the start,” Harper said. “What we’ve been told from the IDPH and the Ogle County Health Department is that we’re due to receive new guidance, hopefully this week. We’re not taking any action tonight, but time is at a premium right now because we need to get ready for school to start in about four weeks or so.”

The adopted guidance includes screening, testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation and cleaning and disinfection to keep schools safe. Additionally, the guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (masking, distancing, testing) to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, particularly children ages 12 and under. 

District 231 will hold its next meeting at Lincoln School on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.