On July 23rd, the new guidelines referred to as the “Ready School, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-2022 School Year” were released stating that there would be local control regarding health and safety requirements, including mask mandates. Over the course of the next few days I reviewed local health data, analyzed what had occurred and was currently occurring in our schools, and consolidated all of our safety precautions, which included strongly encouraging masks but not requiring them. I then presented that plan to Lane County Public Health and received their support.
On July 26th, I posted an update regarding all of the safety protocols the district was working on (and were approved by LCPH), to give parents at least a sense of where we were headed for school in the Fall. That post can be read by clicking here. The next day, the CDC revised its guidance on masks due to increasing numbers of infection due to the Delta variant. The guidance can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html. On July 29th, the Governor announced that an OHA/ODE order would be coming soon, requiring masks in schools in the Fall. This has taken the decision out of our hands.
I attended a meeting this past Monday where it was made clear what the penalties would be for not following this order. Penalties include fines of $500 per day, per school, per student, loss of state licensure for administrators and teachers, loss of legislative liability protections for districts that were enacted during the last legislative session, and personal liability for Superintendents or board members that choose to defy the order. While a lot can change over the course of a few days, not to mention a month, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic, I fully expect to follow the requirements that are being placed on us.
Below are some additional pieces of information in bullet form to help keep our parents informed of what is happening and their options:
- While this issue has developed into an extremely polarizing one for the community, know that our focus in FRSD continues to be on educating students, having full days of school, and supporting as many folks in different circumstances as we can.
- The order only applies to school hours, during the regular school day.
- What occurs after school, in extracurriculars for example, is still up for local decision making. I have sent a framework of what I could support to our High School Administrative team regarding athletics. They are working on forming a committee that will be meeting soon. The team is made up of parents from the EHS Booster Club, EHS Administrators, and Coaches. They will review the framework I have given them and provide their recommendations. I hope to have the results of this up/out by the end of the week.
- When ODE was asked about the differences of masking requirements once a student moves from 7th period Math, to volleyball (for example), it was shared that the differences in requirements are due to the fact that after school activities are optional, while students are required to be in school.
- The current mask requirement may cause some families to choose different educational options this Fall, including home school. We are here to help and support you if you choose this option.
- I would encourage families to pursue what works best for them and return when and if you and your children are ready to do so. As we did last year, we will continue to provide our online OPTIONS program K-12. Their website can be viewed by clicking here.
- I am hopeful that we will soon get back to a position of local control. That does not mean the mask mandate will go away immediately when that occurs. When local control returns, I will proceed as we did at the end of July. We will be reviewing local health data, analyze/review what is happening in our schools, and will look to get support from LCPH regarding any changes in our protocols.
- When masks become encouraged but not required (I am assuming this will occur at some point), it may impact other families that look to pursue different educational options. Just as we are doing now, we will also support those families as best as we can and trust that you are doing what is best based on your circumstances.
- Keeping our schools open, and our students healthy and in school is our number one priority. A significant help with that is the recent change in the definition of what a “close contact” is. An example of how this new order impacts keeping students in school: During summer school, we had a case of COVID-19 in a building. 19 students and 2 staff members were required to isolate/quarantine due to being a close contact. The fact that everyone was wearing a mask at the time, had no bearing on whether or not you were a close contact, based on the previous definition, and summer school ended for everyone in that classroom. The new definition states that even if a person in our schools develops symptoms and tests positive for COVID-19, if we were maintaining 3 feet of distance and wearing masks, we DO NOT have to enforce isolation or quarantines. This will be a huge benefit that results from wearing masks, and will greatly reduce the number of times we have to contact families and inform them their student is now out of school for 14 days, and keeping us away from our primary focus of having students in school!
- Local current data has Lane County, and even our local community, experiencing an uptick in both the % test positivity and total positive tests. This has resulted in multiple local businesses closing. Closing our schools is the LAST thing we want to do as we understand the significant hardship that places on our students and families.
- It should be clear that the district decisions on safety protocols comes from the Superintendent, not from the school board, as do all of the daily operational decisions. I will continue to stay as informed as possible through meetings and conversations with parents, staff, Lane County Public Health, ODE, OHA and other local leaders. I, along with most of the Superintendents in Oregon, continue to advocate for local control as the circumstances and local metrics can vary widely from community to community.
We will continue to inform families as things change.
Gary E. Carpenter, Jr. Superintendent, FRSD 28J