This post is intended to provide our community with an update on the processes that will be undertaken between now and the end of March, prior to coming to a decision regarding making masking optional in our schools. First, to those in the community frustrated with the continued mask requirements in public schools and the ongoing response to the pandemic, and the burdens placed on our children: We hear you! Many district employees not only empathize with this position but fully support it. To those in the community with concerns regarding making masking optional, and the reduction of any of the current safety protocols that are put in place to ensure the safety of each member of our school community: We hear you! Many district employees not only empathize with this position but fully support it.
With that being said, since the start of the pandemic, we have followed all public health requirements and guidance, with our primary goal being to maintain in-person instruction. We have been fortunate that so far in the 21-22 school year we have not lost any in-person school days due to the pandemic! We understand that when decisions are made, they affect families, students, and staff members differently. We will continue to try to do our best to support ALL students in our district moving forward.
Last week, a path was described by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that could remove not only the statewide indoor mask mandate, but the K-12 schools mask mandate. While there are a lot of details, information to share, and impacts that need to be problem solved as a result of such a change. I would expect we will do as we have always done, and follow the recommendations. If the recommendation of OHA is to strongly advise and not require, then that is what I expect I will implement here in Fern Ridge. We will strongly advise, not require. If the district moves to this, it will impact families differently, just as the mask mandate has. I wanted to share this information as soon as possible so everyone will have time to prepare for the potential change. I will also emphasize that it is impossible to make a final decision at this time, as we are 6 weeks away, and much needs to be done over the course of the next 6 weeks before this move can occur. That would include:
- THE DISTRICT NEEDS TO STAY UP TO DATE ON THE CHANGES: The information being put out by Oregon Department of Education is currently being reviewed, and reviewed again, by district staff. The most current information regarding the mask mandate that has been put out by OHA can be found at this link: CLICK HERE.
- Ensure everyone is fully informed in regards to the fact that if masks are optional in school, MORE STUDENTS will be forced to isolate and or quarantine as the result of being a close contact. Currently, we are able to operate as only having close contacts at lunchtime and athletics. When masking becomes recommended and not required, we have to follow quarantine/isolation requirements.
- Ensure everyone is fully informed in regards to the fact that Lane County Public Health plays a role in this decision, and retains ultimate authority if they want to mandate something as they are a “local official.” As I have done since the start of the pandemic, we will advocate for local control.
- Ensure everyone understands that as conditions change, outbreaks occur, etc… we could return to requiring masks even if we go to optional masking on March 31st.
- While it has been critical throughout the pandemic, it will be even MORE CRITICAL that parents keep their students home when they are sick.
- Input from staff: We will be informally talking with all our staff in the coming weeks to get their thoughts on such a change.
- Input from Parents/Community: The various ways to provide input include:
- Attend monthly community Q and A: The Q and A’s occur from 5:30-6:00 on board meeting nights. The next two are Feb 28th and March 21st. The zoom link is: https://fernridge-k12-or-us.zoom.us/j/88212696504#success
- Submit comments at a board meeting: The links to the “Public Comment Policy” and the “Intent to Speak form” can be found within this post: https://www.fernridge.k12.or.us/2022/02/09/community-questions-and-voices/
- Email Supt. Carpenter at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call Supt. Carpenter @ 541-935-2253 to provide input, or to set up an in-person meeting.
As we continue to work through this in the days to come, updates will be posted on the website whenever appropriate.