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Students can remove masks in few instances

The rules for face coverings in schools are different when students are eating. Are there any other times when students are permitted to take off their face coverings?

— no name given

Yes, although it’s difficult to say how many K-12 students will actually be removing their face coverings for something other than eating.

Some background: the latest update to the Oregon Department of Education’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance changed the physical distancing requirement to 3 feet from 6 feet, a move that brings the state in lockstep with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

However, that 3 feet bumps back up to 6 feet in certain situations, the most common being meal breaks and “during activities involving increased exhalation, such as singing, shouting, band, sports or physical activity.”

Supplemental guidance from ODE specifically for visual and performing arts states that students may sing indoors with face coverings on and at least 6 feet apart or outdoors with face coverings off and at least 6 feet apart. They can also play “wind instruments” – all instruments that utilize breath to project sound – indoors while 6 feet apart, removing their mask only while playing.

There’s additional guidance for dance instruction (10-12 feet of physical distancing required) and theater, but for the vast majority of students, mask breaks were limited to food consumption and instrument playing … that is, until the most recent RSSL update was released.

Version 6.4.2, unveiled April 2, includes a small section highlighted in red lettering that details the conditions under which students are allowed to take an “outdoor stationary group mask break.” The itemized list doesn’t exactly scream spontaneous schoolyard fun, but give ODE credit for at least trying. The requirements are:

1. Each student has a designated area marked by a Hula Hoop, blanket, chalked circle or other similar means.

2. Each designated area is at least 6 feet away from every other designated area.

3. Once all students are stationary in their designated area, masks can be removed for the purpose of social, emotional and academic learning and exchange.

4. Yelling, singing, chanting or other activities that would bring larger exhalations aren’t allowed unless students properly wear their face coverings first.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.