Masks are now optional for grades K-12
Some local school districts dropped their mask mandates March 11, the day the state said schools could set faces free.
Some opted to wait until March 14 — and Ashland is waiting until March 19 — but as of Monday all the school districts in the Rogue Valley except Ashland were leaving the decision up to students, parents, staff and others.
Schools must still follow COVID-19 protocols in the Oregon Department of Education’s Resilience Framework document, which calls for some physical distancing, “striving for at least 3 feet between students to the extent possible.”
The revised COVID-19 prevention measures also include the cancellation of contact tracing and quarantining — the practice of isolating a person exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The framework does not, however, prevent a person who tests positive with COVID-19 from isolating for at least five days.
Many of the local superintendents said their districts would continue encouraging good hygiene — such as hand-washing and sanitizing — among their school populations. That’s in addition to continuance of COVID-19 testing on-site for anyone who falls ill during the day.
The local superintendents also urged their constituents — students, in particular — to be respectful of others and their choice of whether to wear a mask.
Here is a look at where each school district or higher education institution in Jackson County stands on COVID-19 protocols.
Masking became optional in schools starting March 14, Superintendent Bret Champion said in his weekly “Main Things” video posted on the district’s website.
Natalie Hurd, a spokeswoman for the Medford School District, noted masking will be optional regardless of the community risk level.
“We are going to … lean on our relationship with our local experts (Jackson County Public Health) as well as keep an eye on our cases internally to help guide our decisions regarding masking,” she wrote in an email to the newspaper. “We are hopeful that we’ve reached a point where we can be mask-optional for the long-term, but will be cautious and diligent in our observation of the local environment.”
Outdoor masking became optional Saturday in Ashland schools, but faculty, staff and students won’t be able to remove them indoors until March 19.
“The additional week allows time for families with students in high-risk categories to plan, and time for staff to prepare students and classrooms for the change,” Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove stated in a newsletter.
As opposed to Medford schools, which hopes to keep masks optional regardless of the risk levels posed by the CDC, Ashland hopes to utilize it, making masks optional during periods of low or moderate risk, and perhaps requiring them during periods of high risk.
Bogdanove noted the decision to use the CDC metrics is a decision by the district; the system, however, is not a creation of Ashland schools.
“The state recommends adopting a metric system that will follow the local decision-making guide provided by the Centers for Disease Control,” he stated in the newsletter. “Local metrics will include the county risk level, hospitalizations, local outbreaks and student absences.”
“For some, this is long overdue,” he wrote. “For others, it represents concern for their health or the health of a loved one. The good news for everyone is that the change is based on a significant drop in active cases and hospitalizations in Jackson County, as well as evidence of increased immunity.”
Superintendent Phil Long told constituents in a newsletter, just days after they held a town hall meeting, that masking would be optional in his district starting March 14.
But this does not apply to the kitchen staff, who voluntarily agreed as a team to wear masks for the remainder of the year for personal health and safety reasons, Long stated.
“Since these are the ones who prepare the meals we serve to our students, this seems like a reasonable request to honor,” Long wrote in an email to the newspaper.
He noted that wearing masks during meal preparation and service is a recommendation from the CDC.
Long added that his district would adhere to the changes in the Resilience Framework that went into effect Saturday.
Due to the state’s lifting of the mask mandate and the results of the charter school’s survey, which showed 96.2% of students and parents preferred optional masking, face coverings became a choice at Prospect Charter School and on school buses starting March 14.
Prospect’s administration announced the decisions on the school’s website and did not add other details. When asked by the Mail Tribune whether there was anything else important about the decision to make masks optional, Superintendent Brian Purnell simply noted the survey’s results.
Central Point School District 6 students and staff could remove their masks beginning March 12, with the exception of school-based LaClinica health centers and rooms in schools where there are symptomatic individuals.
“This is a great day in District 6,” said Superintendent Walt Davenport. “It’s been a long couple years, (we) really appreciate all the support and patience ... that the community, staff (and) kids have shown during this very tough time. I look forward to seeing you guys in the coming weeks and finishing out a very fun, positive end of the school year.”
Quarantining and contact tracing will pause, unless there is an outbreak among a group of individuals. In that case, families and students will be notified by the district.
Masking became optional Saturday, Superintendent Andy Kovach announced in a letter to constituents. Some extracurricular activities occurred that day. Otherwise, he looked forward to welcoming students back Monday.
“Please remind your students to respect the choices of others as we move through this transition,” Kovach told parents in his statement. “I would like to thank you for your support, flexibility and patience as we have worked together through the challenges of keeping our children in school.”
He pointed to the district’s reliance on the Resilience Framework, which includes a provision that encourages school officials to maintain three feet of social distancing “to (the) extent possible.”
The district released more details about the district’s COVID-19 prevention response, which includes the use of testing kits from Abbott BinaxNOW and iHealth. The first is to be used only on symptomatic people and requires permission from a parent. The second can be taken home by students or staff when they are symptomatic or were exposed to a known positive COVID-19 case.
Eagle Point High School will offer free daily coronavirus testing from 7 to 9 a.m. and in the afternoons.
The district continues to encourage parents to screen their children for coronavirus symptoms before they go to school. They are instructed to keep kids home if they are sick.
If a student or staff member experiences symptoms at school, they are asked to go to that school’s office for screening or testing.
Hand sanitizer and other supplies will be available to campus communities.
Masking became optional in Phoenix and Talent March 14.
In a message to constituents, Superintendent Brent Barry said that along with mask-wearing as a choice comes no contact tracing or quarantining for the general population regardless of vaccination status.
As such, test-to-stay will become a form of “enhanced exposure testing,” which would be offered to individuals at increased risk of severe illness.
Students and staff may continue to attend classes regardless of whether they choose to participate in enhanced exposure testing or if they have the vaccine.
Barry cited the new Resilience Framework all schools must follow: “Testing all exposed individuals in a population with high levels of immunity is neither feasible nor likely to benefit health and safety.”
Despite the changes in the state’s COVID-19 mitigation policies, Barry noted that the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority “still strongly advise” that individuals who contract COVID-19 and are symptomatic isolate for at least five days.
“We will continue to adhere to the school exclusion processes laid out in communicable disease guidance,” Barry stated. “But, in essence, these changes will maximize in-person learning and create a learning environment for our students that closely resembles the pre-pandemic educational experience.
He concluded with a plea to parents to continue to screen their children for symptoms of COVID-19.
After the school board convened March 8 to discuss the matter, it decided masks would become optional March 12.
In an online newsletter released the day after the meeting, Superintendent Patrick Lee shared new COVID-19 prevention guidelines, noting they aligned with state recommendations.
Isolation guidelines for those who are sick or test positive will replace quarantining and contact tracing — both measures used for people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
People sick with COVID-19-like symptoms or with a positive coronavirus test must isolate for five days. Anyone in this category can return to school as long as their symptoms are improving and the subject has been fever-free for 24 hours.
The district will still notify parents when their child’s class has a case of COVID-19 in it, Lee stated.
All employees of the district will be provided with COVID-19 tests for home use, he said. Lee also reminded everyone to stay home if they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.