By Jackson Hogan
SALEM -- All K-12 students in Oregon will be required to wear face coverings if they return to classrooms this fall, according to a new state mandate. All school staff in K-12 schools will also be required to wear face coverings such as masks or shields.
This decision, announced Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Education, reverses the state's previous guidelines from June, which only recommended that older students wear face coverings.
The state will distribute 5 million face coverings — donated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — to school districts throughout Oregon to help schools meet this new requirement, according to a state press release.
Charan Cline, superintendent of Redmond School District, said he believes the face covering mandate is the right call based on current medical evidence. He also said there will be alternate options for families who don't wish to have their children wear face masks.
“I think it’s very doable," Cline said of the mandate. "Not every family will agree with this, and I think if families don’t agree, we’re creating a very good K-12 distance learning model."
Gov. Kate Brown, in a press conference Wednesday morning, said that face coverings will be required for all Oregon children ages 5 and older in public. She thanked parents, guardians and child care providers in advance for helping children understand the importance of wearing a mask.
"Obviously, I cannot be everywhere all at once," Brown said at the press conference. "I am incredibly grateful that parents are willing to step up and help us with this really important task.”
Dean Sidelinger, the state's chief health officer, added that although getting students back into classrooms this fall is a priority, it is key to do so with precautions.
"We know that getting kids in front of a trained teacher to receive quality education can really make an impact on those children," he said at the press conference. "But we need to do it safely.”
The state will release another update to its fall school plan on August 11, the release stated.