Oregon schools to require, receive masks for start of year

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
July 22, 2020 8:54 p.m.

With the number of coronavirus cases continuing to rise in Oregon, and the start of the school year getting closer, state education officials have released updated guidance for schools and students.

The state is expanding its mask requirement to include all children five and older, a step initially announced by Gov. Kate Brown at a press conference Wednesday morning. That requirement includes schools, in addition to any indoor spaces or outdoor situations where social distancing is not possible.

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The Oregon Department of Education said it will distribute five million face coverings to school districts for students and staff to use. These face coverings were donated by FEMA.

“This effort will boost school districts’ efforts to keep their students and staff healthy and safe,” said ODE Director Colt Gill in a statement.

“This will help ensure that access to face coverings will not become a barrier to meeting the new requirement.”

The guidance includes clarification on the cohort model, the proposed plan for students to learn and attend school in small groups.

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“Student cohorting not only helps to quickly identify exposed people, it also minimizes disruptions to learning, because only the cohort members would be affected by the exposure,” according to the guidance.

ODE also plans to suspend the state rule dropping students from the attendance rolls after 10 days not in school. The state said students should only be unenrolled once “a school or district has received notice that they’ve been enrolled in another setting.” This suspension needs to be approved by the state board of education.

As far as attendance, schools will be required to take attendance at least once per day for students in grades K-5 and once “for each scheduled class that day” for students in grades 6-12.

The next set of guidance for schools will be released August 11, but before that, ODE and the Oregon Health Authority will share metrics for when schools should open safely for full in-person instruction of hybrid instruction.

The statewide teachers union, the Oregon Education Association released a statement that “praised” the steps Gov. Brown and other state officials are taking.

“Nobody wants to get students back in the classroom more than educators, but we have to make sure we are taking the appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of students and staff,” said OEA vice president Reed Scott-Schwalbach in a written statement.

“That means requiring public health practices in our schools that have been proven to be effective like social distancing and the use of face masks, and setting minimum public health benchmarks that our communities need to maintain in order to resume face-to-face instruction in our schools.”

But over the last several weeks, parents, educators, and staff have expressed concern over starting the school year in person. A group of public employees has come out requesting that schools remain closed until counties have had 14 days of no new infections.

ODE said it plans to release more details on tracking attendance for the August 11 release.

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