Once again, masks are officially required indoors for all Oregon K-12 students and staff.
And you can add Jefferson County to the list of Central Oregon school districts planning to push back against the mandate when students return to school this fall.
In a letter to families, Jefferson County School District Superintendent Dr. Jay Mathisen said he will ask the governor to reconsider her announcement last week and “work with local leaders and teams to craft a more useful and comprehensively safe approach in this season to come.”
“Requiring masks of all adults and students at this point is an over-reach that is not necessary or mindful of the role and choice of families or the needs of young people that are too often ignored in this ongoing context,” Mathisen said.
Gov. Kate Brown last week called for the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority to draft new rules requiring masks for K-12 students and staff this fall as COVID cases rise across the state.
Late Tuesday, the ODE sent an email to school districts across the state saying it had updated its framework for a return to school with the new mask requirements handed down by the OHA.
“This rule took effect on August 2, 2021, meaning summer school and other summer programming students and staff are now required to wear face coverings,” according to the ODE. “Quite simply, face coverings mean more days in school for more students.”
As soon as the governor made her recommendation last week, some Central Oregon school districts said they disagreed with the decision.
“Quite simply, face coverings mean more days in school for more students.” – Oregon Department of Education
Mathisen said he understands COVID has been challenging for everyone and said the “fatigue is mounting.”
“However, mandating masks for all in all school settings is a blunt instrument that misses the mark, inflicts damage, and discounts collective wisdom and capacity in our local settings across our state,” he said.
Crook County School District Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson told families she would do everything she could to retain local control on the issue.
“My goal is to allow staff and families to make their own health decisions about masks, while also fully supporting anyone who wants to wear one for their own protection,” Johnson said. “I’m determined to retain local control and decision-making that’s in the best interest of our community and Crook County School District.”
In Culver, Superintendent Stefanie Garber said the same thing.
“I will not tolerate any mandate that risks the safety, learning or social development of our students,” she told families in a letter.
Combined, those three school districts have about 6,500 students.
Meanwhile, in the region’s two largest school districts, officials had said they were taking a wait-and-see approach.
The Redmond School District, home to about 7,000 students, announced earlier this summer they would not require masks this fall.
“However, mandating masks for all in all school settings is a blunt instrument that misses the mark, inflicts damage, and discounts collective wisdom and capacity in our local settings across our state.” – Jefferson Co. Superintendent Dr. Jay Mathisen
Superintendent Charan Cline said last week the district would continue to monitor the state and federal recommendations but did not have plans to immediately change plans for the fall.
Summer school started in the district this week and masks, however, remained optional.
But with the new rules officially in place effective Monday, students and staff will need to mask up indoors.
In Bend-La Pine, district officials say they plan to make a decision on masks for its 20,000 students and staff on August 10th.
But in the superintendent’s weekly podcast, Assistant Director of Health Services Tami Pike hinted to where the district was heading with the decision.
She said she “wholeheartedly agreed” parents should have a say in the health decisions that affect their children.
“However, COVID-19 is a public health issue and our students in Bend-La Pine Schools are in public schools and therefore should follow the recommendations from Deschutes County Health Services, the OHA, CDC,” she said. “Bottom line: It’s important to follow the science as we know it now. Could that change in a month, six months? Sure.”
The district announced last week that masks would be required for all students and staff while indoors during summer school sessions, which also started Monday.
“Masking is one of several layers of protections that we have in place in our schools to help ensure the health of our students during this pandemic,” said Julianne Repman, the district’s director of communication and safety.K-12 Face Covering Rule One Pager