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Looking for answers – Mt. Angel takes measured approach to un-masking

By Stephen Floyd

The Mt. Angel School District is taking a more cautious approach than its neighbors ahead of the March 31 deadline to lift indoor mask mandates in Oregon schools.

While the Silver Falls and North Santiam school districts voted to go mask-optional by March 31 and joined the call for an acceleration of the deadline, MASD Superintendent Rachel Stucky recommended using the coming weeks to carefully plan next steps.

“We’re going to need the entire time – all the way up to March 31 – to tease this out and make appropriate recommendations,” she said.

Stucky spoke to the MASD board during its regular meeting Feb. 14 and said the district has so many factors to consider they should take time to ask the right questions before deciding on solutions, with public health and well-being as priorities.

“First and foremost we care about our children and our staff, and making sure that people are safe and making sure that in-person learning is accessible to everybody,” she said.

Seeking multiple options, perspectives

Issues to consider include how the district plans to adapt to the loss of test-to-stay, which allows unvaccinated students and staff to attend school after a COVID-19 exposure. When universal masking ends, test-to-stay will no longer be practical and Stucky said the board must consider whether or not affected students and staff should be placed on full quarantine, then wear masks temporarily when they return to class.

Additionally, there is the possibility of harassment between students who do or do not choose to wear a mask. Stucky said staff will need guidance on how to appropriately respond. The district must also anticipate potential upticks in COVID-19 exposures and absences after it goes mask-optional and must be prepared to react.

In the interest of making an informed decision, Stucky said surveys will be conducted among parents and guardians, as well as staff members, to gather feedback, while the district will consult with union representatives and other superintendents as well. Stucky said the goal is not only to arrive at an appropriate decision but to make sure appropriate parties are included in the process.

“We have to collaboratively problem-solve without working in silos or isolation to solve this for everybody,” she said.

Choosing what’s best for students

Board Member Andrea Pfau said she is also concerned about the loss of test-to-stay and said time spent away from the classroom has had a negative impact on students. She said groups like the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority don’t often see the personal outcomes of their statewide policy decisions and she hopes superintendents statewide stand up for a local control of COVID-19 policies.

“I would like our superintendents to stand up to ODE, to stand up to OHA and say, ‘This is not OK,’” said Pfau.

Board member Mark Brenden said potential policies should be inclusive of both students and staff who choose to wear masks and those who do not.

“We have to be able to combine the two as well,” he said.

Stucky said she intends to return to the board March 1 with potential recommendations based on the outcomes of research. She also said the district is waiting for guidance from ODE regarding which current COVID-19 policies will remain mandates and which will become recommendations, and this may shape district policy as well.

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