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Cascade Christian Schools to make masking optional

A letter, penned by the schools’ board chair, was sent to families informing them of the coming policy change

Students attending Grace Cascade Christian Schools get a day off Friday while officials prepare to implement an optional masking policy scheduled to take effect after the Presidents Day weekend.

Scott Anderson, chairman of the schools’ board of trustees, wrote in an email to families Tuesday that the switch would occur Feb. 22. Though officials did not independently confirm the message by press time, the Mail Tribune obtained visual confirmation the email was sent via boardoftrustees@gracechristian.org.

“Optional masking means that each family and individual within our school community will be free to choose whether or not wearing a mask is appropriate and helpful,” Anderson stated. “We know there are mixed feelings about this change within our community and we will continue to support any staff or students who continue to mask. Please note this is effective Tuesday, Feb. 22, as we have logistics to work through, so masking remains in effect for the remainder of this week.”

Founded in 1974, Grace Cascade Christian Schools bills itself as “one of the largest Christian school systems in Southern Oregon,” teaching preschool through 12th grade at three locations in Medford.

The switch to optional masking will come more than a month ahead of the Oregon Health Authority’s announcement that come March 31, school districts can decide whether facial coverings can be worn in schools by student, faculty and staff by choice.

OHA defines “schools” as not only public K-12 institutions, but private ones, as well. A spokesperson for the agency told the newspaper that if the school went ahead with its optional masking policy, it would be a violation of the state’s administrative rules and subject to civil penalty of $500 per day per violation.

Such violations would not be the first time the network of Christian schools has made headlines related to the pandemic. In late 2020, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Cascade Christian High School $360 for remaining open in violation of COVID-19-related state mandates and failing to ensure that “all individuals wore a mask, face covering or face shield while in classrooms.”

In his recent letter, Anderson noted that the board had maintained required masking in order to provide in-person learning and the hope that it would “strengthen our position for a possible battle against mandated vaccinations, should that occur.”

A vaccine mandate for students has not happened, but as far as masking is concerned, Grace Cascade Christian board members now believe the face coverings have caused a “significant disruption” to learning, Anderson wrote. Further, the board believes that since the state is on the cusp of lifting the indoor mask mandate, that is yet “one indicator among many that universal masking is not essential to our ability to function in a healthy manner as a school.”

Anderson said the board recently approved optional masking for its schools.

“We believe we have demonstrated our preparedness over the last two years and will take the next week to further prepare and support all involved, before Early Adopting Optional Masking as of next Tuesday,” he stated.

That preparation includes making Feb. 18 an in-service day, meaning children don’t have to come to school, but staff will to prepare for the masking policy change.

Anderson noted a number of ways, going forward, Grace Cascade Christian would work to keep everyone inside the building safe from COVID-19, including continuing cleaning and sanitizing practices; moving activities outdoors when able; spacing desks to 6 feet or more and providing KN95 masks to those who request them.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.