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Oregon schools: Face coverings not required for outdoor sports, graduation ceremonies

Following updated guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill shared clarifications on face covering requirements with school leaders.

“We are making some minor RSSL [Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance] allowances to allow local districts, charter schools, and private schools to better align to these changes,” Gill said in the message.

Face coverings are no longer required for outdoor sports or outdoor graduations. For outdoor activities like PE and recess, masks are not required anymore, though ODE said distancing and capacity restrictions still apply “until additional updates are provided.” This change applies to everyone attending these events, from students and staff to spectators.

The Oregon School Activities Association also shared the sports update with schools Wednesday.

ODE’s message included other clarifications that allow for people to go without masks in certain situations, if the school is aware of the vaccination status of the people involved, and students aren’t nearby. Those situations include when school staff are indoors without students present, or at indoor school board meetings if children are not in attendance. Masks are also not required at indoor sports events for fully vaccinated students, staff, volunteers and spectators. And although ODE and OHA recommend outdoor graduations, fully vaccinated attendees at indoor graduations are not required to wear masks.

Similar to businesses, it will be up to schools to check vaccination status.

By OHA’s definition, a “fully vaccinated” person is 14 days past their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine (who has received both doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

Though students 12 and older are now permitted for the COVID-19 vaccine, ODE said most children are not yet vaccinated.

Gill said in the Wednesday message that “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” will be updated in the future, and warned about changing these requirements in communities with high COVID-19 transmission.

“If a school is experiencing active transmission of COVID-19 or is located in a community experiencing increased rates of COVID-19, they should strongly consider maintaining or reinstating universal requirements for face coverings,” said Gill in the message.

For school leaders, this guidance is optional. Schools can still choose to require face coverings.

One school district, Greater Albany Public Schools in the southern Willamette Valley, followed ODE’s lead.

“We are taking immediate steps where we feel comfortable, effective today,” the district shared in a message Thursday.

Those immediate steps include removing mask mandates for outdoor sports, outdoor activities and outdoor graduation ceremonies. Physical distancing and capacity restrictions still apply. The district said it’s evaluating mask wearing for indoor sports, school staff indoors without students present, and indoor school board meetings.

Other school districts, like Beaverton, have removed mask mandates for athletes competing outdoors while still requiring masks for spectators and “athletes not actively competing.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Elizabeth Miller