Packed meeting came on the heels of new OHA guidelines, shooting in Michigan.

The Nov. 30 Lake Oswego School board meeting was a heavy-hitter. During the almost three-hour meeting, board members, student representatives and district staff mulled over new policy changes, evaluated inclusive books and announced "striking" data around suicidal ideation.

No more masks outdoors for secondary students

On the heels of the announcement of new state guidelines intended to help students stay in the classroom after COVID-19 exposure, the school district also implemented a change to its mask policy.

Effective Wednesday, Dec. 1, students in grades 6 to 12 will no longer need to wear face coverings while outside. However, unvaccinated students and staff are strongly recommended to keep wearing masks despite the policy change.

Elementary students and educators are still required to wear masks, but face coverings will not be needed outdoors after winter break.

"At this time, we're going to continue to require masks for elementary students for the next three weeks, with the idea that after the new year, we'll be able to unmask our elementary students when they're outside," said Superintendent Jennifer Schiele.

Schiele acknowledged the new omicron variant of COVID-19 that was recently discovered and "strongly" reminded community members that despite this change, the district may need to pivot its actions once again. This could include reversing the mask policy.

Tackling sensitive subjects through literature

During the Nov. 9 school board meeting, Lakeyshua Washington, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction, introduced six books as part of the "secondary pilot novels project." During the Nov. 30 session, the board approved the books, which tackle topics like immigration and Indigenous history.

The books will be used in the curriculum across the district until the end of the school year. Afterward, educators will reflect on what the novels taught their students, and if they recommend them as a permanent part of class reading lists.

After the approval, Washington introduced eight additional books that will find their way into upper middle school and high school settings. The books all focus on identity and deal with complex topics ranging from sexuality, racial profiling, eating disorders and climate change.

These books were "Garvey's Choice" by Nikki Grimes; "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Sáenz; "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone; "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson; "There, There" by Tommy Orange; "We are Not Free" by Traci Chee; and "A Children's Bible" by Lydia Millet.

"(These books) use a wide range of voices and experiences … that help students build up independent reading and engage students in collaborative discussions," she said.

Board Chair Kirsten Aird said the literacy pilot project is an important component to teaching students about themselves and each other. She said that the topics discussed in these books are sometimes "sensitive and hard to teach," but that should not deter educators from implementing them into their classes.

"If we want to create a culture of belonging that sticks and lives into perpetuity, we have to create a safe space for people to fail forward and try things," Aird said.

15% of students say they've considered suicide

Alongside Schiele, Washington, and the district's clinical psychologist, Jim Sanders, spoke on the health and resilience of the LO student body and referenced new data that shows where students are.

Since 2018, the LO school district has conducted a Youth Truth Survey. The data collected from the survey is used to understand what types of issues students face. Primary and secondary students are asked to fill out the survey during their English class, a course that everyone in the district takes. The questions tackle physical and mental health questions on sleep, exercise and relationships.

In the 2021 survey, over 75% of elementary school students said they "feel energized" daily, compared to just 30% of high school students. About 65% of students in middle schools said they "get enough sleep," whereas an average of 45% of primary school and high school said they did.

The results also showed that grades and homework are the two high areas creating stress for secondary students.

"These are good areas to focus on for health in general and … we want to continue to promote these with our students," Washington said.

Another data set announced was the annual Student Health Survey, which is given to secondary students in the sixth, eighth and 11th grades in partnership with the Oregon Department of Health.

Over 80% of 11th graders have experienced anxiety, but only 5% have experienced food insecurity. In all three grade levels, at least 15% of the students have had suicidal ideations or have self-harmed. PMG PHOTO: MIA RYDER-MARKS - The school district announced the results to two school-wide surveys. The 'Student Health Survey' showed that some students in grade-levels sixth, eighth, and 11th have experienced anxiety, self-harm or suicide ideation.

In terms of suicidal ideation or self-harm, student representative Emily Zou said she would not be surprised if the actual numbers were much higher, since some kids could be ashamed to report their experiences even on an anonymous survey. Aird said the numbers were striking and she was "deeply disturbed" by how many students are experiencing mental health issues. She also said this data is a crystal ball into how the district can better aid the student body.

"We walk in this world not knowing what's in the hearts and minds of other people … this information is super helpful," she said.

'We shouldn't have to fear for our lives in our classrooms'

Conversations about gun violence and new concealed weapon policies were hot topics at the board meeting.

During public comment, the local group Moms Against Gun Violence and Students Demand Action for Gun Violence in America introduced a petition in favor of Senate bill 554. The newly introduced bill grants authority and opportunity for local school boards to pass policy around keeping guns off property. About 70 people signed the petition.

Minutes later, Zou used her student representative comment time to voice her concerns about school shootings and advocate for the school district to mirror statewide legislation prohibiting firearms at locations like the Capitol and the Portland International Airport . That same legislation, passed earlier this year, allowed school districts to implement a similar ban at their discretion.

Although Zou's testimony was pre-planned, she said it came at a critical time as another school shooting happened at a Michigan high school hours before the board meeting.

"As we've seen across the nation, gun violence poses a material threat to students' physical and mental health in school. Just today, we unfortunately saw another school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan," she said.

Zou noted that the United States has a significantly higher gun homicide rate compared to many other nations.

"We shouldn't have to fear for our lives in our classrooms," she said.

Later on in the meeting, Schiele introduced Policy KGBB, otherwise known as, 'Firearms Prohibited'. The policy reflects a recent change in state rules that allows districts to prohibit firearms on school campuses, including for those who were formerly permitted a concealed carry license.

The district urged the community to share thoughts about the policy and submit comments on how it could improve. If the district receives no comment from the public, the policy will be motioned for approval at the next school board meeting.

Aird concluded the meeting with a public comment toward the school district in Oakland County, Michigan.

"My heart is with the families and students in Michigan. It is a sad day in a world when that is the news that greets us. It reminds us of the importance of the topics we had today, which is mental health and care for our students," she said.

The next board meeting is Monday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m. at Lake Grove Elementary School.

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