State advises reconsideration of extracurricular student activities
Monday, January 3, 2022
With the COVID-19 omicron variant surging across Oregon, schools and other organizations should pause extracurricular activities or ensure they have the same layered mitigation efforts as during the school day, the Oregon Department of Education recommended Monday morning.
ODE’s latest health advisory, in conjunction with the Oregon Health Authority, emphasized layered mitigation efforts to stop transmissions and keep students and staff in schools. ODE Director Colt Gill told school board members before its release that it was the most important one so far.
Data indicate omicron is less severe but spreads easier, meaning “over the next several weeks, student access to in-person instruction is under serious threat,” ODE wrote.
The recommendations are advisory only, but ODE said that schools that proceed with extracurricular activities, especially if students don’t wear masks, should expect rapid COVID-19 transmission. ODE also said the risk should be clearly explained to families.
The advisory recommended schools should hold vaccination clinics, keep events online when possible, make sure people showing symptoms aren’t in schools, and review and refresh their mitigation plans. To remain eligible for federal COVID-19 emergency funding, school districts must update their “Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan” by Feb. 25.
Before the advisory’s release, Gov. Kate Brown met with school board members through Zoom, a follow-up to an Aug. 19 meeting with board members. Gill and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger joined the meeting that included most of the OSBA Board.
Gill reiterated that stopping community COVID-19 spread was crucial to keeping schools open, a key message of the advisory.
Sidelinger warned that omicron-related illnesses will likely challenge already short-staffed schools. He said Oregon is working on increasing COVID-19 test availability for schools and families. He said the state’s current testing program would remain as is, but the OHA is discussing updates with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
School board members were able to ask questions, starting with when school districts might have metric targets for the return of full local control.
Without setting a goalpost, Brown said mask rules would stay in place through the omicron surge but school leaders would retain control over extracurricular activities. She stated her commitment to keeping children in schools and also expressed support and promised resources for schools and school board members.
School board members raised concerns about mask and test availability, especially for lower income families; child care issues for families facing quarantines; and school board member safety, among other issues.