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State of Oregon requiring masks be worn in public schools as delta variant spreads

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County School District is hoping to avoid mask requirement to start new school year.

Following a recent state mandate for schools throughout Oregon to resume mask-wearing next school year, local education leaders are pushing for local control.

On July 29, Gov. Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education to create a rule to require masks indoors for K-12 schools statewide for the 2021-22 school year, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recently updated guidance and based on the latest science on the spread of the delta variant.

"The science and data are clear: the delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious," Brown said. "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 a statement issued the same day by Crook County School District Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson, the administrator pointed out that the governor's announcement comes after she announced in late June that all future decisions about COVID-19 protocols would be decided at the local level.

"Since the beginning of July, our school district has served over 1,000 students in the largest summer school program in the region," Johnson said. "Students have been in school without masks, and we've reported no outbreaks or spread of the virus. This is why I fully support the opportunity to make our own decisions based on what's happening with the virus at the local level and develop COVID-19 safety plans with our incredible partners at the Crook County Health Department."

Johnson went on to stress that her goal is to allow staff and families to make their own health decisions about masks, while also fully supporting anyone who wants to wear one for their own protection.

"We also offer two robust online programs, Crook County Online Option and Grizzly Mountain HomeLink, for families who may have concerns about COVID-19," she said. "I'm determined to retain local control and decision-making that's in the best interest of our community and Crook County School District."

The local school district managed throughout the 2020-21 school year to provide in-person education for many of its students while other schools throughout the state primarily stuck to online learning. K-3 students attended full-time, in-person school during the entire school year. By October, grades 4 and 5 had returned to schools full time, while middle and high school students participated in an in-person/online hybrid. When the second semester began in late January, all grades returned to full-time, in-person education for the remainder of the school year.

None of surges in Crook County COVID cases have been linked to local schools.

As the cases once again surge throughout the state, they are increasing locally as well. However, the uptick is so far attributable to isolated family gatherings, not community spread from businesses or other public places.

"Families get together and the entire family comes down sick with COVID," explained Vicky Ryan of Crook County Health Department. "We start getting anxious when it is more community spread from an unknown origin. … That's when we start paying attention."

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