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Student representatives also shared findings they collected from focus groups at local middle schools. 

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Lake Oswego School District seeks feedback on masks at school after it was announced that a statewide mandate will end March 19. On Tuesday, Feb. 22, the Lake Oswego School Board met for its first in-person meeting since December to discuss mask mandates, bullying and new additions to the district team.

Mask updates

Late in the meeting, Superintendent Jennifer Schiele gave an update on the face-covering requirement.

"Omicron is slowing down (in the district). In the first week we came back to school, we had 186 active cases, and last week we had 30. So it's really significantly going down, which is great," Schiele said.

The district is still discussing a final decision on how to proceed once a state mask mandate is lifted, but will incorporate community input. A letter was sent out to families Thursday, Feb. 24, asking for their thoughts on lifting mask requirements in indoor public spaces and Oregon schools on March 19, which the state announced as the new date for lifting the mandate. The district hopes to arrive at a clear plan by Monday, March 7.

About 15 community members spoke or wrote in during a public comment period in favor of removing the mask mandate or allowing people to make their own choice. A special-education teacher said that the social-emotional skills of her students are decreasing every day because of masks. Another commenter said that students are being called white supremacists if they remove their masks briefly for fresh air.

"The mask mandate is clearly a tool of power, control and dominance ... children's' faces are not political," the person said.

As the board meeting wrapped up, Chair Kirsten Aird asked community members for kindness as they shared their thoughts about mask mandates.

"We have heard so much from the community in testimony and emails. … These are really hard times. It's hard to forget that we like each other and we're friends and that we live together," Aird said.

She added that although she greatly appreciated people who took the time to write to the district with their thoughts, it wasn't easy to read some of the emails

"I think the community needs to understand it's hard reading all these emails because we forget that there are humans on the other end. There's also the humans who wrote them, so I ask for grace and kindness continuously and that we leave space for voices we don't always hear," Aird said.

Students' priorities

Student board representatives Alicia Li and Emily Zou presented their findings from focus group discussions they had with 40 junior high students in the district. For the past three months, Li and Zou visited Lakeridge Middle School and Lake Oswego Junior High to chat with the students about topics ranging from sustainability to homophobia.

The discussions uncovered that students are happy to be back to in-person learning, but they miss seeing their friend's faces without a mask. Some of the junior high students expressed that learning from last year didn't sink in and they are playing catch up in their math and science classes.

Students also shared how important sustainability is to them and want more opportunities to practice it through actions like placing composting bins at school.

Most participants also shared that although they have not experienced discrimination themselves, they have observed incidences of it happening. Zou said that most bullying focuses on sexual orientation and sexuality, according to the students. Respondents recounted students using homophobic slurs, defacing LGBTQ+ posters and being outed by teachers unintentionally when they were trying out a new pronoun.

Students shared that when teachers notice bullying, they are quick to resolve issues — but sometimes staff has a hard time noticing it because of a "coded language" the younger students communicate with.

"They'll have this little secret language that they speak in, which it's kind of difficult for adults to notice when students are bullying another person. However, when teachers do notice, thankfully (the students) said that all of the teachers try their best to disrupt it when they do identify it," Zou said.

Zou also said that a huge part of the discussions centered on sexism. Students said they have heard sexual assault jokes and some students lack empathy in talking about these topics.

Some girls reported feeling uncomfortable around certain boys, and that some teachers disproportionately hand out dress code referrals to students who have certain body types.

Legal Budget Committee grows

The board approved two community members, Michael Harrison and Emily Lievens, to join the district's Legal Budget Committee. The group is a fiscal planning board that overviews LOSD's fiscal budget, funding and audit reports. Harrison and Lievens will begin their duties in March.

The board will meet next at 6 p.m. Monday, March 7.

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