Area college and school district officials are facing a familiar problem heading into the 2021-22 school year – how to establish Covid-related guidelines in the face of ever-shifting guidance from public health officials.
District leaders from Springfield, Creswell, Cottage Grove and Pleasant Hill had released their latest policies in anticipation of the new school year, all following guidance from public health agencies. That included “strong encouragement” to wear masks indoors.
Thursday morning, Gov. Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to issue a statewide rule requiring masks for K - 12 schools for the 2021-22 school year in response to the Delta variant risk levels.
Mike Johnson, superintendent of the Creswell School District, said the OHA and state ODE would continue to help determine the district’s approach.
“The guidance and directions ... change rapidly. Although the CDC has made a recommendation, we have not heard from OHA,” he said. “When OHA makes a recommendation to the governor and ODE, they will determine if adjustments or changes will be made to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework guidance.
“At CSD, we will continue to align to the RSSLRF guidance, so no changes to our plans at this point. However, just as it has been for the past year and a half, we are prepared to pivot to new directions and guidance ... to make our schools safer for staff and students.”
In fact, late Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority recommended universal mask use in public indoor settings throughout the state to protect Oregonians from COVID-19.
The Lane Community College board took unanimous action Wednesday, July 21, ruling that proof of vaccination would be required for on-campus learning starting in the Fall.
LCC president Marge Hamilton said there has been extensive research put toward the decision to become a fully vaccinated campus.
“We have heard a clear and consistent message from our employee groups that they will feel safer coming back to campus if we require vaccinations,” Hamilton said. “We’ve heard a loud message from our students that they want to come back to campus, and would prefer to be on a campus where they feel safe to interact with their peers and their teachers.”
LCC board member Austin Folnagy said he was initially against a vaccine mandate but has changed after listening to the experiences of staff who worked during the pandemic.
“As we go into this year with the Delta variance and so forth, we’ll be able to know what percentage of our staff and students are vaccinated, which allows us to make decisions based on what we need,” Folnagy said.
Public speakers consisted of LCC staff who spoke on behalf of themselves and their departments, all in favor of adopting the vaccination mandate for LCC this Fall.
“My answer to this is that the pandemic is not over,” said Fiora Starchild-Wolf from LCC enrollment services. “We need to ensure as many people as possible are fully vaccinated for everyone’s safety.”
The next stage is to figure out a safety plan.
“I couldn’t be more proud tonight as a nurse and as a president,” Hamilton said. “Thank you for being the first of the community colleges.”