Harper: Guidance still needed before return-to-school policies

After hearing feedback from parents at board meetings in recent weeks, Jason Harper, the superintendent of Rochelle’s elementary and high school districts, said guidance is still needed before return-to-school COVID-19 policies can be implemented.

‘Guidance really needed to be out weeks ago’

ROCHELLE — After hearing feedback from parents at board meetings in recent weeks, Jason Harper, the superintendent of Rochelle’s elementary and high school districts, said guidance is still needed before return-to-school COVID-19 policies can be implemented. 

Parents and community members filled rooms at both recent school district board meetings and spoke out against mandatory masks and in favor of an optional style. 

“We appreciate parents and community members sharing their opinions and insights on returning to full-time, in-person learning for next year,” Harper said. “We have had feedback on various facets of schooling during the pandemic dating back to March 2020. As the state of the pandemic changes, people's views evolve in all sorts of ways. We continue to listen to our public, consider current guidance and local transmission data, then work to implement plans that allow for safe, consistent in-person learning while trying to avoid being too restrictive.”

Harper said detailed guidance is still needed on many issues that will have a “considerable” impact on the district’s day-to-day operations and the daily lives of families. 

Two major issues left unresolved are quarantine protocol and remote learning expectations. 

“This guidance really needed to be out weeks ago which has led to avoidable frustrations,” Harper said. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently adopted guidance from the CDC that states masks should be worn 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 in classrooms. 

Harper told the board in his monthly report Monday that he’d hoped to have more information and guidance to share by the meeting. He said guidance hasn’t been updated since July 9. 

Harper said he’d continue to update the board on changes and associate with the RTHS teacher's association, the school’s nurse, the Ogle County Health Department, the Illinois State Board of Education, IDPH, legal counsel and the legal counsel that represents the school via insurance in regards to liability.

No matter what the initial plan for the school year will look like, Harper said he believes the community is fortunate to have teachers, support staff, bus drivers, custodians and more who will continue to work hard to make the year a success regardless of the ups and downs of the pandemic.

“The things we accomplished since March of 2020 in both districts has been amazing and I know great things will occur again this year,” Harper said.

May School Daycare

Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows has said in recent weeks that the city is endeavoring to open up a possible daycare at May School after the city lost its only facility in the past year. May School was recently closed by the elementary board. 

Harper said he had no update on the possibility of a daycare at the site of the school when asked for information on the idea and what would need to happen for it to come to fruition.

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