Oregon High School

Oregon School District staff and students could still be required to wear masks inside school buildings past the expiration of Public Health Madison and Dane County’s mask mandate.

While no official decision will be made until the Oregon School Board meeting on Monday, Nov. 22, district superintendent Leslie Bergstrom indicated she was in favor of keeping a mask mandate for all schools through winter break to give children ages 5-11 an opportunity become fully vaccinated before possibly moving toward a mask-optional environment.

A decision on whether or not to extend a mask mandate for the schools will need to happen next week, as the county’s current mandate expires on Nov. 27. In the announcement of its final renewal, PHMDC said it currently had no plans for renewing the mask mandate as children ages 5-11 became eligible for vaccination against COVID-19. 

It’s expected that Bergstrom will bring a recommendation forward at the Nov. 22 meeting, which could be discussed among the board or potentially go to a vote.

The district’s ultimate goal is having students in classrooms with minimal disruption to learning, Bergstrom said, as she encouraged the board to consider options for removing safety precautions that would allow for consistency without re-imposing safety regulations later in the year. She added that she felt the district’s phased-in approach in the year prior had worked to mitigate spread within the schools, and didn’t require administration to consider going backward by closing specific classrooms or schools.

During her presentation, Bergstrom seemed to encourage the continuation of universal masking through winter break, noting that having all people masked in a classroom was the only way to prevent close contacts from having to then quarantine if exposed to a person who tests positive for COVID-19. She cautioned that had the district started the year without a universally masked environment, the 102 cases of students being in classrooms while being contagious with COVID-19 might have caused hundreds of additional students to be placed into quarantine.

With higher vaccination rates among students, Bergstrom said, the number of students who would need to quarantine after being in close contact would decrease. As of August, anywhere between 60-70% of students at each grade level had reported being vaccinated by their parents in Infinite Campus; the district’s teaching staff is 99% vaccinated and hourly staff are 85% vaccinated.

“The masked environment, up until this point, has served us very well,” she said. “It’s time to start looking at, ‘is there an option of peeling back one of our safety strategies,’ and I certainly think we should be at least considering what’s on the menu as far as a rollback.”

Bergstrom added that the board should consider the impact on the district’s staffing levels, as the current labor market has made it difficult to retain substitute teachers, and has instead pushed teachers into covering for others during what would be their prep periods, as well as support staff and principals teaching classes to fill gaps.

“We have to understand there would be some impact there too, with stress and strain on staff,” she said.

 

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