SALEM, Ore. – Oregon schools will be following recent mask recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Gov. Kate Brown.
Brown has directed the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to create a rule requiring masks indoors for K-12 schools statewide for the upcoming school year.
"I think it's great until they get the pandemic under control and kids are safe," said Jessica Howell, who lives in Eugene and has two children.
The return of masking protocols comes amid surging cases and hospitalizations and the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“The science and data are clear: the Delta variant is in our communities, and it is more contagious,” said Brown. “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.”
Brown reminded residents that getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect against COVID-19.
"Safety of students and staff remains the number one concern," said Sabrina Gordon, president of the Eugene Education Association. "We really want kids to be able to be in school full time-without interruption due to quarantines or COVID spread."
Gordon said this decision allows teachers to focus on preparing to help students readjust to full-time, in-person learning as the academic year approaches. She said COVID-19 safety decisions should be made by medical experts such as the CDC and OHA.
"Those are the folks who honestly need to be making these health decisions based on science and leave the effort and energy of the educators to figure out how we're going to be involved in students coming back in the fall," Gordon said.
Gordon said masks will likely help slow the spread of the virus in classroom settings, especially because keeping at least three feet apart is a challenge in some schools.
"We don't have the staff or the space to provide that distance in some cases and so there will likely be classrooms that don't have that three feet of distance," Gordon said.
Eugene's 4J school district is waiting for more detailed guidance from the Oregon Department of Education, according to a spokeswoman. However, she also said the district will adhere to requirements that best help students attend class in-person, full-time.
This comes just three days after Springfield Public Schools announced masks would be recommended, but not required, for students while inside the school buildings. As a result of the new mandate, the district will be forced to change its plans.
A spokesperson for Bethel says the district is still reviewing the governor's new requirement before finalizing any plans for the upcoming school year.