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Sherman school board votes to end mask requirement

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Jessica R. Wheeler

The Sherman County School Board of Directors met in a special meeting Thursday night to discuss new guidelines announced by Oregon Department of Education this week.

Several changes were made to ODE’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 school year, most notably the end of the indoor mask requirement for Oregon students.

ODE is following Centers for Disease Control community level guidelines, which as of March 12 will recommend, but not require, masks in the school setting nationwide. While the CDC will continue to update community levels weekly, as of now many requirements have become strong recommendations, returning more decisions to local control.

Board member Jeremy Lanthorn quickly made a motion that masks be welcome but not required at Sherman County School and all district transportation as of March 11 at 11:59 p.m. The board voted unanimously in favor.

Superintendent Wes Owens thanked the school community for its resiliency, noting that March 12 is almost exactly two years since this all began. He said he looks forward to bringing back a sense of normalcy to the school environment, including lunches, recesses, extracurricular activities and special events.

Owens specifically praised the senior Class of 2022, a group of students who he said handled the ups and downs of the past two years with grace. He hopes to offer them a full slate of graduation activities, much like in past years.

“Our school community responded very admirably in a public health crisis,” Owens said. “It was not easy, it was not fun. Many people are burnt out and tired, but there’s some real light at the end of the tunnel and it certainly feels good. As you all know we had to completely rewrite the playbook, with thoughtfulness, safety and also consideration of various viewpoints.”

There are many protocols that are now strongly recommended but not required, and Owens said “reasonable measures” seem to be a key talking point in the recommendations.

In a letter released Friday after the vote, Owens said quarantine protocols and contact tracing are no longer recommended, but individuals who test positive are urged to isolate for five days. Cohort notifications will continue so individuals can take proper precautions if exposed to Covid-19.

Some things have not changed.

“The vaccine mandate has not gone away,” Owens said.

At this point, staff and volunteers still must be either fully vaccinated or an have exemption, he said. Unlike some schools in Oregon, Sherman will not specifically require unvaccinated staff and volunteers to wear a mask.

Unvaccinated staff will no longer have to submit to weekly testing, but may have to report weekly through a quick set of screening questions based on their symptoms, exposure or history of travel outside the country.

For safety reasons, Owens said, school leaders will still be working on mitigation strategies such as handwashing, sanitizing, distancing, even classroom ventilation as weather warms this spring.

“All I would say is please be patient as we work through bringing back all the things we’re used to,” Owens said. “With patience and a little time, I think the staff, the students and the community will be very happy with decisions and schedules and protocols and everything of that nature.” 

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