K-12 students, staff and visitors will again be required to wear face masks in public schools to start the 2021-22 academic year, Governor Kate Brown announced Thursday morning, reversing her previous course that would have allowed local districts to make those decisions.
Brown said the statewide mandate aligns with recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging universal mask use indoors in areas with high community spread — regardless of one’s vaccination’s status.
Canby had previously been one of the few Portland metro area school districts to move toward optional mask use for the coming academic year.
Dozens of parents, community members and students had testified at that night’s Canby School Board meeting, virtually all of them urging the district to not require masks for students and athletes — and some of them saying they would pull their children from the district if face coverings were mandated.
The move, which is certain to draw ferocious opposition, comes amid the state’s largest surge in new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in more than six months.
Health officials say the spike has been driven by the highly contagious delta variant and too-low vaccination rates in many communities in Oregon.
“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.”
The about-face is only the latest backtrack from state officials, who earlier this week urged universal masking in all indoor public spaces — less than a month after lifting the statewide mask mandate and business restrictions (and promising they were gone for good).
“In the meantime, as we ask Oregonians statewide to mask up in public indoor spaces, we will continue working hard to vaccinate more people so we can finally beat this virus once and for all,” Brown said. “Vaccines remain the most effective and best way to protect ourselves and our families.”
Canby Superintendent Aaron Downs said in an email update to district families Thursday that local schools will be expected to follow the new state guidelines.
“This directive changes our ability to have local control over face coverings in our schools,” Downs explained. “That means, regardless of vaccination status, all students, staff and visitors will be required to wear a face covering in all of our facilities.”
Downs said the district does not know how long the requirement will last but expects to receive additional information from the Oregon Department of Education.
“As this announcement just came today, we do not yet know what this will mean for athletics, activities or other school events,” the superintendent said. “We do know, under federal law, that face coverings are still required on all school buses.”
Officials said they will continue to provide updates for families and the greater community as they learn more. School starts on Aug. 30.
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