By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
New shoes, a backpack, pencils, pens and a notebook or two.
Back to school shopping this year will also need to include another mandatory supply: face coverings.
New orders handed down by Gov. Kate Brown Wednesday and added to the Oregon Department of Education’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidelines require all students and staff to wear masks at virtually all times.
“The new requirement is in response to mounting evidence that face coverings are effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” the ODE said in a press release after Brown announced the new mandates earlier in the day.
Initial versions of the framework schools are using to create their back to school plan only recommended masks for middle and high schoolers. And staff wasn’t required to wear them in all circumstances.
That changed Wednesday.
“It is now established that asymptomatic people can spread the virus that causes COVID-19, and this is a significant contributor to person-to-person spread,” the guideline language now states. “Face coverings decrease the spread of COVID-19 as “source control” of a contagious person’s respiratory secretions. Use of face coverings does not change physical distancing requirements.”
State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said new studies from Korea show that kids 10 and older spread the disease as easily as adults and the masks provide an extra layer of protection for students, staff and families.
The guidance urges schools, families and community organizations to prepare younger children on the safe and proper way to wear face coverings. It also calls for schools to discuss ways for “face covering breaks” during instruction.
Cloth masks should be washed daily or a new face covering be worn daily, the ODE said.
“Clear plastic face shields may be preferred in some instances because they enable students to see whole faces,” the guidance said. “This avoids potential barriers to phonological instruction and reinforces social emotional cues.”
To that end, ODE will soon distribute more than five million KN95 masks to Education Service Districts to hand out to local districts. The masks were donated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We know that there is nothing better than in-person instruction. In order for us to do so, we must comply with the new public health mandates set forth by our governor to keep our teachers, staff and students safe.”
– Redmond Superintendent Charan Cline
Redmond Schools Superintendent Charan Cline said the district is preparing to follow the requirements.
“We know that there is nothing better than in-person instruction,” he said.” In order for us to do so, we must comply with the new public health mandates set forth by our governor to keep our teachers, staff and students safe. We have purchased appropriate PPE and are ready to support our teachers and students this fall.”
“This effort will boost school districts’ efforts to keep their students and staff healthy and safe,” said ODE Director Colt Gill. “This will help ensure that access to face coverings will not become a barrier to meeting the new requirement.”
Crook County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson said they’ll be working with principals and teachers on how to manage masks in the classrooms, “so that our response to students is both gentle and understanding.”
“Parents in Crook County are expressing a high level of concern about students wearing masks at school,” she said. “So our new Homeschool Partner Program offers hybrid and fully-online options that gives our families flexibility and choice.”
The new mandate comes as school districts across the state work on their blueprints for a return this fall.
The ODE has said each school must come up with its own plan based on student and staff needs, space and other limitations.
Local districts have said they are working on plans that include a return to classrooms for elementary students while middle and high schoolers would have a hybrid in-person/online experience.
“The Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance places tremendous responsibility in the hands of local school and health officials with state oversight to protect the health of all Oregonians,” the ODE said.
Even with the new face-covering mandates, the ODE said that doesn’t “fully prepare a school to return to in-person instruction.”
“The supply of face coverings complements schools’ ongoing efforts to keep students and staff safe and healthy and is one of many factors in any school’s individual plan to return to in-person instruction as all schools have to meet a host of safety criteria before returning students to in-person instruction,” according to a release.
Additional updates to the state’s massive checklist for schools includes new language that gives school boards the authority to shut down a facility due to an outbreak.
“Boards have generally delegated to the Superintendent of the school district the ability to make this decision,” according to the guidelines.
Regarding cohorts, schools will work to limit cohort groups students are with throughout the day, understanding the more groups the kids are involved with the greater the risk.
“Experts at the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education have been working around the clock with local public health professionals to draft clear metrics for school reopening,” Brown said. “We expect to release these metrics in the next several days to help districts and school boards large and small make smart decisions.”