ROCHELLE — At the Rochelle Elementary School District Board of Education’s Tuesday meeting, Superintendent Jason Harper said the district will be adopting new state guidance that will reduce the isolation and quarantine periods for some COVID-19-involved students and staff.
The Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education’s guidance says the isolation and quarantine period for students and staff members who tested positive for COVID-19, have no symptoms or their symptoms are resolved, or for those considered a close contact, can be reduced to five days.
Previously, isolation and quarantine periods were seven, 10 and 14-day periods depending on the situation.
“I think this modification and change is part of the transition to getting kids in school for longer,” Harper said. “We would like to implement this and try to bring our students back and have them feel like they're part of these building families.”
In a letter sent to district families Tuesday night, Harper outlined the changes to the isolation requirements and said Rochelle schools would implement the updated guidance immediately.
Day zero is the day a student or staff member either starts experiencing symptoms or tests positive. Day one is the next day and so on. Students and staff must remain symptom-free and fever-free without the use of medication for 24 hours before returning to school. Students and staff who are considered either a household or school close contact will be contacted by their child’s health office on an individual basis to determine a return date.
The new guidance does not change the state’s mask requirement for anyone inside school buildings. The governor’s universal indoor mask mandate for schools is still in effect until further notice.
There are additional facets of the guidance that Harper said the district will be working through for implementation.
“There's a lot of different scenarios they try to address,” Harper said Tuesday. “There's a lot that's come out this afternoon. What I can say specifically, is that it is my recommendation to follow that guidance regarding a modification to a five-day quarantine. There are additional provisions and different pieces of guidance that we're going to have to dig into further. I know we want our students to be in-person for as long as they can for as safely as they can be.”
The district has avoided any closures or adaptive pauses due to COVID-19 so far in the school year, but did have “some situations” where it had to do things strategically to mitigate spread and potential spread of COVID-19 during its first semester, Harper said. He also said that COVID-19 numbers are up within the district.
“The tweaks that have happened in guidance in the past, there haven't been that many times when it was a guidance overhaul,” Harper said. “This is one of those times where we feel like this is a guidance overhaul. I just ask for your continued patience and support as we walk ourselves through it.”
The board unanimously approved a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Rochelle Elementary Education Association. Board President Dave Casey abstained from the vote on the new contract with district teachers.
Negotiations on the agreement have been going on for over a year. REEA ratified the agreement on Dec. 20. It includes a 3.2 percent increase in teacher base pay each year, an increased third year of retirement incentives for qualified teachers and an increase of sick days for qualified teachers. The increase to teacher base pay meets the new state mandates for minimum teacher compensation.
“Considering the contract language went largely unchanged for over a decade, there were a lot of concerns to talk through in order to reach an agreement,” Harper said in a joint press release with REEA. “We are thankful for the REEA’s leadership as the two parties worked collaboratively to reach an agreement.”
Harper said in the past couple of months, the two parties found common ground in “a lot of areas.” He thanked the REEA and all of the district’s teachers for their collaboration and patience. The REEA reciprocated the feeling of gratitude after negotiations.
“The REEA is excited to have secured a three-year agreement with the board of education and thanks the board for its continued support of Rochelle elementary teachers,” REEA Co-Presidents Emma Toole and Cosme Becerra said in the joint press release.