Non-Medford schools cautious on optional masking – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune A dozen people gathered on Tuesday to protest mandatory masks for students at Ashland High School.

Some small school districts aren’t ready to say what their masking policy will be a day after the OHA announcement

There was a steady stream of statements Tuesday from Rogue Valley school districts that needed time to chew on the major announcement released the day before by the Oregon Health Authority that masks could be optional for students and staff on March, 31st.

Three Rivers, Ashland, Phoenix-Talent and Rogue Rivers school districts’ acknowledgment of the state’s planned removal of the masking requirement for indoor public places contrasts with the Medford School District, which held a conference to respond to reporters’ questions late Monday. At the same time, the Central Point School District also said it would pursue an optional masking policy.

Responses from smaller districts show either they will push for a mask-optional rule in consultation with their local health department, or it takes longer before a decision can be made.

“Seems to be more complicated than just ‘masks come off April 1,'” Butte Falls School District Superintendent Phil Long wrote.

To develop a plan for the charter school, Long said, officials will “review the full scope of guidance and options available to school districts” and discuss them with constituents.

“I’m confident we’ll have our plan in place before spring break, if not sooner, and communicate it to our students’ families,” he wrote.

Three Rivers Superintendent Dave Valenzuela expressed gratitude for the state allowing his district to have “local control” of COVID-19 policies and said he would welcome the opportunity to make masking optional. in his schools.

“We are delighted to see the smiles of our students back, and we will update you with more information soon,” Valenzuela wrote.

He said, “There is a lot of planning ahead,” with Josephine County Public Health, to make optional masking a reality.

“Expect more detailed information closer to Spring Break and as updates are released by the Oregon Department of Education,” Valenzuela wrote.

He urged families and students in Three Rivers to use the coming weeks before March 31 to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Rogue River School District superintendent Patrick Lee told the Mail Tribune that his district would not yet offer an official statement to families.

“It will take time to work with administrators and the school board to plan our direction. Not really in a hurry. Nothing changes until March 31 at the earliest,” Lee wrote.

His insistence on consulting the school board contrasts with Medford Superintendent Bret Champion, who said his district’s decision on whether masking is optional will rest with central administration rather than the school board.

“I like to evolve in unison with my board and not make decisions like this without consulting them,” Lee wrote. “I also think that since they are the ones who made a resolution for local control, they should have the opportunity to decide what that local control looks like. I’m sure they will ask me for information and advice, but I consider it their decision to make for their community.

Ashland Public Schools Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove released a statement through his district’s online newsletter system. He reiterated the date when local control would come into effect and that, until March 31, no COVID-19 protocols would be changed in his schools.

“The (d)district will determine how to navigate the local decision-making process and keep families informed in the coming weeks,” Bogdanove wrote.

He said families would have the opportunity to weigh in on the masks.

“Your input will be important as we consider what changes we might make to security protocols in the future,” Bogdanove said. “Please look for a direct comment opportunity in the coming weeks.”

But in downtown Ashland on Tuesday, some people weren’t waiting for the ideal time and place in the neighborhood to offer their thoughts. About a dozen people held up signs saying “Free Faces For All” and “Unmask Oregon” in response to the OHA announcement.

One of the masked protesters, Andre Nogues, said his only son attended Ashland Public School, until he placed the young man in a boarding school in Indiana ‘to escape the madness’ of wearing a mask.

Told of Bogdanove’s message to families and his intention to incorporate them into the decision-making process, Nogues called it a “lip service memory,” saying he has attended many school board meetings and believes his members are not listening to voters about masking. .

Still, Nogues admitted he doesn’t know if Ashland Public Schools will decide whether students will be able to wear a mask. Whatever happens, Nogues said, the decision does not give him much comfort, believing the state has overstepped its authority so much over the past two years.

Phoenix-Talent School District superintendent Brent Barry said his schools will begin planning for an optional masking policy after gathering information.

“We know this will be good news for many and create anxiety for others, so we will do our best to bring clarity to our students, staff and community,” he wrote in an email.

Barry noted that the state’s projection in decreasing hospitalizations due to COVID-19 could allow for continued in-person learning without interruptions and “traditional spring events for our children.”

Dean MacInnis, communications supervisor for the Eagle Point School District, said Tuesday that officials in his office still haven’t finished writing a letter to parents about masks. The district school board is scheduled to meet Feb. 9 for a working session, during which the recent masking survey completed by parents and staff will be discussed.

Many school districts in the Valley cited their ongoing conversations with Jackson County Public Health as key to determining whether schools can begin voluntary masking in the spring.

Tanya Phillips, spokeswoman for the agency, said JCPH has ongoing meetings with all Jackson County schools and the OHA announcement will be discussed later this week.

Additionally, she wrote, the JCPH has scheduled internal meetings to “review and assess what the state has proposed and develop our recommendations. Further recommendations/advice from the OHA/ODE may yet come at a later date.

Contact journalist Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.

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