The Forest Grove High School. Photo: Brenda Schaffer

OREGON - The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) today updated its Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance for the 2020-21 academic year.

Ready Schools, Safe Learners is a program developed by the ODE in conjunction with Gov. Kate Brown that provides a framework for reopening schools, prioritizing the safety and health of all students, teachers, and families when they return to the classroom.

Face coverings

The updated guidance requires face coverings for all K-12 students and staff. Previous guidance recommended only students in grades 6-12 wear masks, but it was not required. 

To help school districts meet this requirement ODE plans to distribute 5 million face coverings, which were donated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), during the next few weeks.

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Back to school

All schools, based on local conditions and readiness, must select one of three ways to begin school this fall: returning to regular classrooms on campus; returning to school with a blend of on-site learning and distance learning; or returning to school solely through distance learning.

The Forest Grove School District continues planning efforts as the 2020-2021 school season approaches. A question and answer session in English for the public will be held virtually on Thursday, July 23 from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.; a Spanish language Q & A will follow at the same time on Friday, July 24. Information on how to register for the session can be found at www.fgsdk12.org/apps/news/article/1257874.

The ODE press release says face coverings -- so-called because they are not surgical masks -- alone do not fully prepare schools to return to in-person instruction, rather they complement efforts to keep staff and students healthy and safe.

ODE director comments

ODE Director Colt Gill said reopening schools is a team effort, and he thanked FEMA, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Administrative Services, the Salem-Keizer School District, and all 19 education services districts throughout the state for acquiring, storing, and distributing face coverings.

“This effort will boost school districts’ efforts to keep their students and staff healthy and safe,” Gill said. “This will help ensure that access to face coverings will not become a barrier to meeting the new requirement.”

Looking ahead

The next Ready Schools, Safe Learners update is expected to be announced on August 11. Meanwhile, the ODE and the Oregon Health Authority are collaborating on a set of guideposts, protocols, and public health indicators to keep local school districts and their individual schools that will determine when it is OK to reopen for in-person instruction.

ODE officials expect to release these updates, as well as expanded information on how to respond to outbreaks in schools, before the Aug. 11 Ready Schools, Safe Learners update. 

For more information visit the ODE website

Fall Sports

The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) announced today that the first contest date for some fall sports has moved from August 27 to September 23, including cross country, volleyball, and soccer.

"During the past few weeks and months we’ve received countless emails advocating for the safe return of school sports and activities," wrote Peter Weber, Executive Director of OSAA in a letter to school district superintendents, principals, and athletic directors . "The OSAA Executive Board and staff share the passion and desire expressed by this communication and have been advocating with the Governor’s Office accordingly. Just as schools will not look the same in the Fall of 2020, it’s clear that school sports and activities will not either. It’s important to remember that any participation that can be done safely is a positive step forward for the physical health and mental well-being of students and their communities."

But with school reopening methods uncertain, the OSAA cautioned that some sports and school activities remain prohibited at this time, including football, cheerleading, and dance and drill. Additional updates from the OSAA are expected after the OSAA Executive Board meets again in the first week of August.

Chas Hundley contributed reporting for this story.