The district continues to investigate this issue, and hopes to make a final decision by Friday, March 11th so our families have time to prepare (although a decision could come sooner). As was mentioned in the last website update on this topic on February 14th, since the beginning of the pandemic we have strived to protect in-person instruction for our students/families, and followed local and state requirements. 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.
Why can’t we just make a decision today? The single biggest reason is that Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) have not provided final guidelines regarding what the quarantine/isolation/contract tracing requirements are that schools will be REQUIRED to follow. A meeting was to occur late yesterday between ODE and the superintendents around the state to provide an update, but that meeting was delayed. For example, we currently have every staff member vaccinated (without a doubt that has allowed us to maintain in-person instruction throughout the school year), and a high percent of our teachers have received a booster, and are thus “Up to Date”. The current OHA/ODE requirement is that if a staff member is “up to date” on their vaccination that they do not have to isolate/quarantine when they are a “close contact” unless they become ill. If that were to change, and in an environment that has “optional masking,” staff members were required to quarantine regardless of vaccination status, then it would essentially stop in-person instruction. We would not be able to provide a consistent in-person option.
Conversations have occurred at every building on this topic over the last week or two to gather staff input. I have a meeting this afternoon with association leadership to discuss this as well. We are on track and slowly getting prepared for a possible change. A couple things to note:
- The requirement for masks on transportation is a Federal one, that is set to expire March 18th. If it is extended, and our district goes to an optional masking environment, masks will still be required on the school bus.
- If we go to an optional masking environment, there may be some instances where masks ARE still required for staff and students. For example: In the health room when a student is experiencing symptoms.
- Finally, in an optional masking environment, FAR more students will be required to quarantine, as any student that is not-vaccinated, or any staff member who is not “Up to Date” will need to quarantine/isolate. This will require us to really focus and double down on all of our other safety protocols, such as hand washing, ventilation system effectiveness, distancing, cohorting, etc.. The single biggest help however, has always been, and will continue to be, staying home if you are sick!
I will continue to provide updates as we get more information. As always if you have questions, or would just like to share your thoughts, feel free to reach out.