News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

ODE outlines what end of mask mandate means for schools

As of March 31, the decision to require universal masking in school settings will rest with decision makers in school districts, charter schools, private schools, and local public health authorities, according to Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. 

“The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and ODE continue to strongly advise the use of face coverings in schools in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the impact of quarantine through the school year,” Gill said in a press release.

Masks are required on public transportation, which includes school buses until lifted by the federal government and cannot be waived by state or local authorities.

How Schools Can Prepare

Among the things schools can do are:

• Encourage eligible staff and students ages 5 and up to get vaccinated and boosted now if they’re not.

• Revisit and strengthen COVID-19 mitigation protocols, which will change if schools decide not to implement universal masking indoors. 

• Collaborate with school and district leaders, local school boards, represented employee groups, students, families, and community to align decision making based on data and the priority of access to in person education. ODE has provided tools and resources for local decision making that supports continuity of services. 

Schools may continue to require students, staff, volunteers, and/or visitors to wear face coverings during indoor or outdoor activities, similar to other COVID-19 mitigation protocols such as physical distancing, and airflow/ventilation. Similarly, schools may be required by local ordinance to continue requiring staff and students to wear face coverings.

In the Absence of Universal Masking

Schools will return to using the general exposure definition: Having been within 6 feet of a confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 case for 15 minutes or more within one day, or having been in contact with the infectious secretions of a confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 case.

This will likely result in more days out of school for unvaccinated students and staff, and more classroom and school closures due to staffing constraints. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, this will impact district’s medically complex and historically underserved students, staff, and communities the hardest.

In the absence of universal masking, schools will not be able to use the Test to Stay Protocol to allow students and staff to attend school during a quarantine period. Universal use of face coverings remains a prerequisite for the Test to Stay Protocol. Diagnostic testing will remain accessible to all schools regardless of mask use.

General quarantine guidance for students and staff who return on day 6 of their quarantine will include the continued need to wear a well-fitted mask for days 6 through 10 of their quarantine.

Universal masking is a key measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In its absence, schools should anticipate significant increases in workload from contact tracing and notification.

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