Update from Supt

Dear Rocket Families, Faculty and Staff: 

Today, Governor Pritzker issued an Executive Order that requires all students, staff, and visitors age 2 and older to universally mask indoors except in certain circumstances. This includes all indoor sports and IHSA/IESA activities and applies to student-athletes, coaches, officials, game personnel, and fans. In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, it is recommended individuals who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

Please know we hear and understand the strong positions and feelings on all sides of the masking requirement. This is not an easy or comfortable position for anyone to be in. The main purpose of our School District is to create the conditions and an environment for children to learn and teachers to teach. As a Superintendent and Board of Education, our service to the Rochester School District is to protect the education of our community’s children to the extent practical and possible. 

During the regular meeting of the Board of Education in July, I presented a draft plan that included my recommendation that masks would be strongly recommended. Since that time many things have changed, especially definitions surrounding close contacts and options to reduce or eliminate quarantine dependent on mask policies. After these changes and strong recommendations for masks from health authorities were released, we gathered input from the Board of Education, Administration, Faculty, and Staff to build a draft plan and to seek public input before the Board of Education was to take action. Now today, as stated previously, Governor Pritzker has announced an Executive Order that supports safe in-person learning and requires that masks be worn indoors by all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

As a result of this Executive Order, I will recommend to the Board of Education at our upcoming special meeting that the District complies with the mandate. This decision was not made lightly,  but with great controversy and debate. I understand this is a decision that comes with many varying perspectives and emotions. Regardless of our personal feelings, we will work hard to bring to light some positives from this situation. For example, as a result of universal masking in the District, we will have significantly fewer students quarantined throughout the year due to the differentiated requirements for quarantine. As such, we will have increased continuity of education for our students.  According to health officials, if there is a positive COVID-19 case within the classroom, a close contact will be defined as: 

Individuals who were within 6 feet of a person infected with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. 

  • Exception: In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student where

    • both students were engaged in the consistent and correct use of well-fitting masks and 

    • Other K-12 school prevention strategies and layered mitigations were in place.

If the child and/or staff member is a close contact, the local health department has the legal authority to impose a 7, 10, or 14-day quarantine which the school will have to impose.  If all are universally masked and maintain safe social distancing of 3-6 feet, the individual will not be a close contact and will not be subject to quarantine/school exclusion. Accordingly, since our ultimate goal is to keep our children in school where maximum learning can occur, masking will support this effort. 

I am looking forward to the day where this is not our reality. The Board of Education and I remain committed to diligently review local transmission rates and vaccination availability to examine the ability to phase out certain preventative measures revolving around universal masking and social distancing. Until that day, we respectfully request cooperation and grace while we try to create conditions that maximize student learning and the ability to keep our doors open with low to non-COVID-19 transmission. 

Please note that our draft reopening plan includes the details about preventative measures and layered mitigations that may be found on our District website here.  

We look forward to August 13th, when we can welcome our students back for an amazing year of learning.  We appreciate your cooperation, support, and trust you have in Rochester Schools, its faculty, staff, and administration to educate our wonderful students. 

It’s a great day to be a Rocket!

Be the Difference, 

Dan W. Cox, Superintendent of Schools