Oregon students will have to wear face coverings to attend school this fall after all.
The Oregon Department of Education and Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday the reversal of a previous decision and will require all K-12 students to wear some form of face coverings when classes resume for in-person instruction.
All staff will also be required to wear face coverings for in-person classes.
Previously, Oregon’s guidelines for the reopening of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic recommended, but did not require, face coverings for students in grades 6-12.
Health and education officials continue to work on metrics for determining when schools can proceed with in-person instruction.
The lack of face covering requirement in Oregon had been the most prominent difference between guidance from Oregon and Washington. Now the two states are largely on the same page in their preparations to reopen schools for in-person instruction.
The Oregon Department of Education said it is distributing 5 million face coverings statewide to school districts for students and staff.
Milton-Freewater Superintendent Aaron Duff said the new requirement isn’t surprising and won’t change the district’s planning process that much.
“I semi expected that,” Duff said. “Washington and California were requiring that. I don’t think it was unexpected … It actually doesn’t (change our plans). In some cases, it adds maybe a layer of safety and protection for students and staff. I knew that we would have some students, because of health reasons, already come in with masks. And so I don’t think it will really drastically change things for us.”
Athena-Weston Superintendent Laure Quaresma is a little worried about how younger students will adjust to wearing masks.
“We are concerned about our little kids and masks. We want kids back in our schools as the best instructional option balanced with student safety,” Quaresma said. “The new guidelines create additional challenges as we work on adjusting our reopening plans to meet the governor’s announcement.”
Quaresma said the district will now have to spend time making sure students know how to wear masks or face coverings correctly.
“Our team will meet and review our plan with (Oregon) Health Authority guidance and most likely we will have a staggered startup with time to include helping kids get used to wearing masks,” Quaresma said.
She said there are parents in her district who may hold their children out of school because of the requirement.
“Our community survey results did not support kids wearing masks at school and expressed concern about sending kids if this was a requirement,” Quaresma said. “We will likely see an increase in families opting for the district virtual learning option or a hybrid of onsite and online.”
Duff also said some parents had said they may not let their children return to in-person instruction if masks were required. This, he noted, was before the state required masks to be worn in public.
“Three or four weeks ago, before it was a state requirement, we had some parents say that,” Duff said. “It will be interesting to see, now that we have been through the mask requirement for over three weeks and can’t go to Safeway or other stores without wearing a mask, if that will change some perspectives.”
Duff noted he has also heard from parents on the other side of the issue as well.
“I have heard from parents that have said, ‘Whatever it takes to get my child to school, we’ll do,’” Duff said.