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A new order for Gov. Kate Brown will require students to wear masks while at school this summer and fall.

Itemizer-Observer

POLK COUNTY — In the latest of a long list of change-ups to COVID-19 guidance, schools this fall will again require students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings.

Gov. Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education July 30 to change course on their guidelines based on the latest science from the Center of Disease Control & Prevention in the wake of the spread of the more contagious delta coronavirus variant.

“The science and data are clear: the delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious,” Brown in a statement. “My priority is to ensure our kids are able to safely return to full-time in-person learning this fall, five days per week and with minimal disruptions. With many children still ineligible to be vaccinated, masks are an effective way to help keep our kids safe in the classroom, the learning environment we know serves them best.

“In the meantime, as we ask Oregonians statewide to mask up in public indoor spaces, we will continue working hard to vaccinate more people so we can finally beat this virus once and for all. Vaccines remain the most effective and best way to protect ourselves and our families,” Brown added.

Dallas School District Superintendent Andy Bellando said he was surprised by the governor’s announcement in a letter to the community.

“This is one more change in a flurry of changes we have experienced since the pandemic began,” Bellando wrote.

Both the Dallas and Central School District had planned to make face masks optional for summer programs and into the new school year based upon the last, most recent guidance from the Oregon Department of Education.

“The surprise announcement by the governor has caused us to pause these efforts,” Bellando wrote. “I am seeking more information from the governor’s office about this order and will specifically advocate for the return of local decision making.”

The rule will include provisions for:

Eating or drinking.

Playing a musical instrument that requires using the mouth.

Swimming or other water sports.

Engaging in a sport in which wearing a mask could be a strangulation hazard such as gymnastics or wrestling.

Nothing in the rule is intended to prohibit a school from complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A school that violates the rule will be subject to civil penalties.

The Ready Schools, Safe Learners (RSSL) Resiliency Framework will be updated in the next few days to reflect this change.

Reaction was swift across social media. Janica Duncan, who formed the Facebook group Let Oregon Learn, thought the battle had been won getting students learning back in person. Now, the group feels it’s fighting another skirmish.

“We’re not very thrilled, that’s an understatement,” Duncan said from a family vacation in Alaska. “I have one kid who wears a mask just fine. But my other kid feels suffocated, getting headaches and feeling dizzy. They’re pretending all kids fine wearing mask. It’s just not true.”

“This is the third school year in a row to not have a normal school year,” Duncan added. “Kids two and up, preschoolers, have to mask up, with zero scientific evidence. WHO (World Health Organization) recommends against masking under 5, or those older kids with immune systems compromised. This just feels like they’re continuing to sacrifice children to appease adults.”

The new mask mandate will go into effect immediately for the districts’ summer programs. Emily Mentzer, CSD communications coordinator, said CSD’s summer programs at Ash Creek Elementary School and Ash Creek Annex wrapped up on last Thursday, while their partners at the YMCA and WOU will continue to host their summer camps.

“As we move forward with activities such as Kinder Camp, we will continue to require masks when indoors for summer activities and no masks outdoors,” Mentzer said.

Bellando indicated DSD’s remaining summer programs will require face coverings.

He added, like other school districts, DSD is sending out a survey this week asking parents how the governor’s face covering order will affect the return of their children to schools this fall. Meanwhile, CSD does not plan to send out a new survey; rather, they consider input on district policies an ongoing process.

“Community input is valued at Central School District. We continue to receive communication from community members letting us know how they feel about what in-person school should look like in 2021-22. We encourage community members to reach out to us via info@central.k12.or.us, by calling the district office, or leaving a message through the district Facebook. We will continue to engage in community chats (in person and virtual) throughout the 2021-22 school year,” Mentzer said.

Mentzer said Superintendent Jennifer Kubista will give a report at the Aug. 9 school board meeting addressing any new information CSD may have received by that time.

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