Local school leaders want local control on masks if mandate ends early

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If Oregon ends its indoor mask mandate before March 31st, local school superintendents say it should be up to the school districts to decide if masks are needed for students and staff. 

Superintendents from 11 local school districts sent a letter Wednesday to state health officials requesting they “be afforded the opportunity to take on the responsibility of mask guidance at the same time as our communities.”

With COVID cases declining, Gov. Kate Brown announced earlier this month the state would lift the indoor mask mandate by March 31st at the latest. 

But there’s been talk of lifting the mandate sooner if hospitalizations continue to decline as they have in recent weeks. 

Superintendents believe the mandate would continue in schools through the month, even if the state’s mandate is lifted.

“The reality is that being out of sync with the rest of our respective communities (assuming they are able to end the community mandate before 3/31) will be a tremendous hardship for our staff and could likely lead to some very challenging working conditions during this transition period,” the letter said. “Specifically, there are reasons to believe that disruptions, protests and challenging behaviors may arise at our schools, as they have in Deschutes County and across the state.”

The letter was sent to Rachael Banks, the Oregon Public Health Director, and Dr. Dean Sidelilnger, the State Public Health Officer and Epidemiologist. 

It was signed by superintendents from Bend-La Pine, Redmond, Sisters, Jefferson County and Crook County school districts among others.

▶️ Redmond teachers, officials struggle with school board’s decision on masks

The Redmond School Board recently approved a resolution to regain local control on masks as early as March 2nd.

District administrators and the teachers union were left scrambling to come up with the plan despite it conflicting with the state mandate. 

In the letter, the school leaders also said they expected some families to just keep their kids out of school if they were forced to continue to wear masks.

“It is likely that older students will refuse to wear masks and protest rather than attending classes (especially given that no one else in the community will be required to wear them at that time),” the letter said.

Already many parents bring their kids into school without masks in a show of defiance, the letter said. 

“The burden of these challenges will be carried on the backs of our staff and will likely make it difficult to continue with in-person instruction for the remainder of March,” the letter said. “Our primary interest in writing this letter is to decrease disruptions and challenges to student learning, as we anticipate this to be likely. In this request, we hope to minimize potential for disruptions and to continue in-person instruction for all of our students and establish a smooth transition for the remainder of the school year.”


You can read the full letter below:

Rachael Banks, Public Health Director State of Oregon
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Public Health Officer & State Epidemiologist State of Oregon February 21, 2022

Dear Ms. Banks and Dr. Sidelinger:

First of all, let us start by thanking you for your thoughtful and courageous guidance during the past two years, helping us navigate these unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. We are grateful for your leadership in keeping students, staff, and our communities safe. As you are well aware, we have all sought your guidance and feedback about how to best serve our students and families during these difficult times.

As educational leaders in Central Oregon, we do not take the impact of COVID lightly. As the school district and education service district superintendents from Crook, Deschutes, Harney, and Jefferson Counties, we are writing to request that school districts be afforded the opportunity to take on the responsibility of mask guidance at the same time as our communities.

If OHA releases the community portion of the state mask mandate earlier than the established March 31st cutoff, we respectfully request for school districts to align with this change, rather than waiting until March 31st, as currently established.

Throughout this pandemic, our experience has been that K-12 guidance has always aligned with OHA and LPHA guidelines. We are asking you to consider continuing that now, as well.

The reality is that being out of sync with the rest of our respective communities (assuming they are able to end the community mandate before 3/31) will be a tremendous hardship for our staff and could likely lead to some very challenging working conditions during this transition period.

Specifically, there are reasons to believe that disruptions, protests and challenging behaviors may arise at our schools, as they have in Deschutes County and across the state.

We anticipate that some percentage of our families will just hold their students out of school during this time. It is likely that older students will refuse to wear masks and protest rather than attending classes (especially given that no one else in the community will be required to wear them at that time). We also may have parents of elementary students escort their students into school without masks in defiance of the state rule.

The burden of these challenges will be carried on the backs of our staff and will likely make it difficult to continue with in-person instruction for the remainder of March.

Our primary interest in writing this letter is to decrease disruptions and challenges to student learning, as we anticipate this to be likely.

In this request, we hope to minimize potential for disruptions and to continue in-person instruction for all of our students and establish a smooth transition for the remainder of the school year.

For the record, this written request is specifically to ensure that our position is clearly articulated and not perceived as an opportunity to grandstand or push back. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this issue.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, Paul Andrews, Superintendent High Desert ESD

Charan Cline, Superintendent Redmond School District

Steve Cook, Superintendent Bend-La Pine Schools

Shannon Criss, Superintendent Harney County ESD

Stefanie Garber, Superintendent Culver School District

Matthew Hawley, Superintendent Harney County District #4 Harney Union High School District 1J

Sara Johnson, Superintendent Crook County School District

Jay Mathisen, Superintendent Jefferson County School District 509J

Shay Mikalson, Superintendent Jefferson County ESD

Steve Quick, Superintendent Harney County District #3

Curtiss Scholl, Superintendent Sisters School District

 

 

 

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