Harper to recommend school boards comply with governor’s mask mandate

Rochelle schools previously planned mask optional approach

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ROCHELLE — Jason Harper, superintendent of the Rochelle Elementary and Rochelle Township High School districts, said Friday that he will recommend that the school boards comply with Gov. JB Pritzker’s Aug. 4 universal mask mandate for K-12 schools for the upcoming school year. 

The districts previously planned a mask optional approach to begin this fall. Harper said Pritzker’s mask mandate eliminated the authority of school boards to adopt mask optional plans. 

“At this point, the Rochelle Schools remain focused on creating the best conditions for every child to learn and teachers to teach as we return from the pandemic,” Harper said in an email. “Using last year as a guide, we will have strategies in place to help our students and staff work through the school day while in a face covering.” 

Harper said beyond the health concerns inherent to educating students during the pandemic, a choice to not adhere to the governor’s masking mandate would put the district at “significant risk.”

“Specifically, the district would experience risks associated with increased liability, loss of insurance coverage, loss of recognition as a public school and loss of school funding,” Harper said. “Based on all of this, I cannot recommend our schools ignore this mandate.”

Both of last month’s school board meetings saw parents and community members fill meeting rooms and voice their opinions against the idea of requiring masks in schools. The Rochelle Elementary School District Board of Education will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m. and the Rochelle Township High School Board of Education will meet on Monday, Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. 

“I understand that the issue of masking has been an emotional issue since the start of the pandemic,” Harper said. “The news of the governor's mask mandate has disappointed some and pleased others. We never know what is to come as the pandemic changes, so going forward we continue to adjust to changing conditions and mandates as quickly as possible. We appreciate our community's ongoing support in getting our students back into our classrooms.”