Although all the superintendents from every school district in the county have been meeting weekly to discuss plans for reopening in the fall in an effort to try and stay on the same page, two school districts have distinguished themselves recently over the “hot-button” issue of masking.
Hamilton, Corvallis, and Florence have all decided to require masks to some degree in their re-opening plans. But at a meeting last week, the Darby School District board of trustees decided unanimously to “recommend wearing masks but not require them.” This decision was based on the recommendation of School District Superintendent Chris Toynbee who based his recommendation primarily on the advice of the local county health department.
Toynbee told the board that based on legal advice and CDC recommendations he was proposing to close the school campus. He said it would mean that people dropping their children off at school will not be able to accompany them inside.
He said that he was told by the County Health Department that any exposure lasting more than 15 minutes “and masks do not do much good anyway.” He said every bus ride in the district was probably longer than 15 minutes, especially up the East and West Forks.
He said that when the kids get to their Home Room they will have air filters and sanitization procedures in play. He noted that some schools were requiring masks and others not. He also noted that the current head of the County Health Department was the latest following two resignations.
Toynbee said that he believed based on the CDC information that blocking out an 8-foot space around the teacher’s desk would be protection enough without masks.
Toynbee went on to say that “at some point we will have to face a situation when someone comes in with Covid. We need to be ready with a plan on how to deal with it.” He said it could lead to a quarantine of students and staff that could make it hard to keep the school open.
“Parents are going to need to have the choice of ‘distance learning’,” he said.
Registration is scheduled to start on August 18. Toynbee suggested that the opening day of school be pushed to August 26th instead of the 23rd. He said teachers will have a day for preparation and three days to work on their course plans before starting on the 26th.
Toynbee said that he leaned towards allowing a child to wear a mask if they wanted to. If you have a teacher with a particular vulnerability they could wear one if they choose, he said.
“The County Health Department says that a face shield doesn’t do much for you,” said Toynbee.
“One certain thing,” he said, “is that we will get an incident and could lead to having to drop face to face and end up having go to online teaching completely again.”
“If you are really concerned about Covid,” he said, “I would recommend going to ‘distance learning’. I’m not sure what good masks are going to do for us; at some point we will have to go to distance learning, that’s where we are headed.”
The Board voted unanimously to adopt the plan for opening as presented to operate full days, from 8:30 to 3:30, five days a week with masks “strongly” recommended but not required. Visiting adults will be required to mask, however.
In Stevensville School District, the School Nurse Connie Johnson and Superintendent Dr. Bob Moore both recommended requiring masks for most students and staff, but the board voted to not require masks.
According to Moore, the district sent out surveys to all parents and 387 were returned showing that 20% of the respondents indicated they would prefer distance learning while 70% said they would like the kids to return to school. He said the rest (10%) would prefer to homeschool or some other option.
The district is offering students the option of distance learning for students from the 5th grade and up, but they are asking the parents to commit to a 9-month program. He said the district was looking at using the Google classroom platform.
As for the wearing of masks, Moore said that if you look at the scientific journals that are out there, “you would get a recommendation to wear masks pretty quick,” he said. On the other hand, there are professionals and parents who will tell you that it is problematic when you consider things like teaching and learning pronunciation and enunciation with a mask on.
“Nobody has the right answer. Nobody has a single answer,” said Moore. “What I ask is that it just be a non-political decision done for the children in the community.”
One big change in the plans is that it calls for no homework to be assigned in grades 6 to 12. With longer school days, he said, any ‘homework’ should be done in class. This will give some relief to parents who work.”
The re-opening plan also calls for smaller class sizes and block schedules with students working in cohorts to further reduce the chances of transmission.
School Nurse Connie Johnson advocated strongly for the use of masks. She also said that, contrary to the misinformation circulating, masks are safe to wear with some exceptions for some kids and a few situations. She said it was the right thing for kids in 5th grade and up. She said that masking was feasible and could even be incorporated into the dress code.
Although Board Chairman Greg Trangmoe said that he was personally in favor of wearing masks, in the big picture he didn’t want to take the choice away from the kids themselves. He voted against masking in the end as did all the other board members except Ben Meyer. Meyer said that he was going to vote in favor of masking based on the recommendation of the school nurse who has the knowledge and experience to make the best assessment. He said he was “going to listen to the people who we trust with our kids every day.”
On Monday, Stevensville School Board Chairman Greg Trangmoe said that there will be additional consideration of this issue before school starts. “Like everyone else we’re figuring this out as we go along.”
Stevensville Schools will host school registration for all grades August 25-27th from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in each school front office. The school day hours were lengthened to meet the required aggregate hours needed to meet state funding requirements.
The Victor School Board was to meet Monday night to consider their reopening plans (too late to be included in this story).