(Update: Adding Dept. of Education's new guidelines, reaction from Redmond, Crook County schools, residents)
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday directed the Oregon Health Authority and the state Department of Education to create a rule to require masks indoors for K-12 schools statewide for the 2021-22 school year, in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently updated guidance, and based on the latest science on the spread of the delta variant.
“The science and data are clear: the delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious,” Brown said. “My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions.
"With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best," she said.
“In the meantime, as we ask Oregonians statewide to mask up in public indoor spaces, we will continue working hard to vaccinate more people so we can finally beat this virus once and for all," the governor added. "Vaccines remain the most effective and best way to protect ourselves and our families.”
While Redmond schools announced initial plans earlier this month to not require mask use by students or staff, other school districts said they were awaiting more state guidance as they decided how to proceed.
“We’re frustrated, because we were told we would have local control over something like this -- and now we don’t," Redmond School District Public Information Officer Sheila Miller told NewsChannel 21.
Miller said requiring use of masks in schools comes with a set of challenges.
"You can’t see teachers' facial expressions. You can't see kids' facial expressions. It can be harder for us to hear kids or for us to hear teachers," Miller said.
When asked about how she feels families will receive the change, she said she expects mixed sentiments from parents.
"For some families, I think there will be some relief, because vaccines aren’t available for kids 5 to 12 yet," Miller said.
However, Miller also said that other families will be frustrated -- and she understands why.
After speaking with a few Redmond residents, this is what they had to say about the masks-in-schools requirement.
"I think it’s overrated. I mean, I think we’re coming to a healing point, so I think that’s just pushing it a little far," said Brandon Churchill, parent of a Redmond student.
Another Redmond resident, Clayton Biggs, said he opposes the mask policy and that it would be futile with students.
"They will just take the mask off as soon as they get the chance," Biggs said.
He said he takes care of his nephew and that kids have a habit of touching everything.
However, Redmond resident Lawn Lumpkin said he didn't mind it, because it protects him -- and it makes sense, since children can't get shots.
"I think it's a good idea," Lumpkin added.
Crook County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson expressed surprise at the new requirement and indicated they want the local control over such decisions that was promised earlier.
Here's her statement:
Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson to Push for Local Control and Decision-Making Regarding Masks and COVID-19 Protocols in Crook County Schools
"Crook County School District was surprised to learn of Governor Kate Brown’s mask mandate today for Oregon public schools after she announced in late June that all future decisions about COVID-19 protocols would be decided at the local level.
"Since the beginning of July, our school district has served over 1,000 students in the largest summer school program in the region. Students have been in school without masks, and we’ve reported no outbreaks or spread of the virus. This is why I fully support the opportunity to make our own decisions based on what’s happening with the virus at the local level and develop COVID-19 safety plans with our incredible partners at the Crook County Health Department.
"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. We also offer two robust online programs, Crook County Online Option & Grizzly Mountain HomeLink, for families who may have concerns about COVID-19.
"I’m determined to retain local control and decision-making that’s in the best interest of our community and Crook County School District," Johnson said
Statement distributed by the Oregon Dept. of Education:
Dear Oregon School and District Leaders:
Thank you for your steady partnership as we navigate the challenges and shifts in preparation for next school year.
Today Governor Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to create a rule requiring face coverings in all indoor school settings, both public and private, for all individuals two years and older, including all students, staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors. This decision is in response to the sharp uptick in the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon and the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19.
This rule will take effect upon adoption. Summer school and other summer programming students and staff will also be required to wear face coverings when the rule is instituted.
Maintaining Continuity of Learning By Maintaining Health And Safety
Universal and correct use of face coverings keeps kids learning in person, which we all agree is best for students. Two of the most important tools the state has to control COVID-19 are vaccination and face covering. However, currently children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use. In order to protect students under age 12, individuals who are not vaccinated, and those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from COVID-19, as well as to minimize the disruption of student education in schools because of exposure to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, requiring universal use of face coverings inside schools is necessary.
The rule will include include provisions for:
- Eating or drinking.
- Playing a musical instrument that requires using the mouth.
- Swimming or other water sports.
- Engaging in a sport in which wearing a mask could be a strangulation hazard such as gymnastics or wrestling.
- Nothing in the rule is intended to prohibit a school from complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- A school that violates the rule will be subject to civil penalties.
The Ready Schools, Safe Learners (RSSL) Resiliency Framework will be updated in the next few days to reflect this change.
I realize this is a significant shift in direction. The vast majority of the recommendations in the RSSL Resiliency Framework remain advisory and in control of local decision makers. It is noted within the framework, “Changes in the amount of community transmission of COVID-19, the severity of illness associated with new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, or the availability of vaccination for children younger than 12 years old may warrant changes to the state’s recovery efforts during the school year. The Resiliency Framework will be updated to reflect any changes...ODE and OHA will continue to monitor guidance updates from the CDC, and will continue to align this recommendation framework as needed.” It is imperative that we remain nimble as state and local partners to address the impacts of the global pandemic.
I understand this update may bring questions. Our hope is to provide you with the assistance you need to implement this new requirement with fidelity. Please contact ODE at ODE.COVID19@ode.state.or.us with any questions.