Hello SSD Students, Families, and Staff,
As many of you may be aware, groups of students at both Sherwood Middle School and Sherwood High School have planned maskless demonstrations for tomorrow, February 8, in addition to a parent protest planned to take place at our District Office location. Additionally, this afternoon the Oregon Health Authority released new information indicating that the state-level K-12 mask mandates will be lifted, effective March 31, 2022. I am writing to you today to share more information about the OHA announcement, as well as to help ensure that all members of our community are aware of the potential responses and implications of tomorrow’s planned demonstrations.
First, to those planning to participate in tomorrow’s demonstration events: We hear you. We are aware of your concerns regarding the continued mask requirements in public schools, and know that you are not satisfied with the ongoing response to the pandemic, and the burdens placed on our school children specifically. However, we cannot support or allow maskless entry into our schools, based on the current state mandate. The Sherwood School District and its employees are required to enforce the current state-wide mandate, and every District employee will continue to do so, regardless of their personal feelings on the issue.
To those with concerns about, or in opposition to, this event: We hear you, as well. We are aware of your concerns regarding the rapid spread of the Omicron variant — particularly in light of the significant number of positive student and staff cases experienced in our own district since returning from Winter Break — as well as your concerns regarding the safety of each member of our school community. With that said, our district supports the rights of students to demonstrate peacefully on our school premises, while enforcing all current school rules.
As we consider tomorrow’s events, and the potential for students to attempt to enter our buildings without the required masks, our response will follow the current Oregon Administrative Rule that is still in effect, while allowing our students to demonstrate in a safe and non-disruptive way. To help ensure the safety of all members of our community, we have worked closely with the Sherwood Police Department, who will be providing additional police presence at our schools and District Office tomorrow as they monitor traffic concerns and pedestrian safety.
With that in mind, we ask for your help. Please talk with your students and help them understand the realities listed below:
- If a small number of students attempt to enter the building unmasked, those students will be asked to put on masks. In the event they choose not to do so, they will be invited to continue their participation in the demonstration at a designated, outside location on campus, or may choose instead to go home.
- Our district’s focus has, and continues to be, on keeping schools open and safe. If the number of students attempting to enter the building becomes unsafe or disruptive to the overall learning environment, and those students continue to refuse to put on masks, we may be forced to move the school to an online format. It is also possible that we may lose the ability to hold extracurricular activities if we cannot ensure mask compliance. Under the current guidance, these activities are predicated upon mask usage across all school settings.
To be clear, under no circumstances will students be allowed to attend in-person classes maskless.
We respect the rights of students to hold demonstrations on school property as per our Board Policy JFI, and we encourage students to participate in civic processes and to make their voices heard. Additionally, we honor the rights of community members to engage in protests, and would ask all individuals entering school properties to be mindful of Board Policy KGB regarding “Public Conduct on District Property.” However, district and school officials have no authority to remove the mandate currently in effect, and would ask all participants not to take any action that will threaten our ability to continue to hold in-person school or extracurricular activities, or to jeopardize the safety of our students and staff.
Looking ahead, today’s news from the Oregon Health Authority regarding the upcoming changes to the K-12 mask mandate provides our district with the opportunity to begin preparing our schools for the transition to optional mask use by our students and staff. As you may remember, our Board of Directors took action on this issue on August 4, 2021 (video of that meeting can be viewed here). Based on previous Board action and the information released today, pending no further county-level mandates from the local public health authority, our district will move forward with an optional mask rule once the current mandate ends on March 31, 2022. Please note that masks are still required on public transportation, which includes school buses, until lifted by the federal government and cannot be waived by state or local authorities. In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing the impact of this change in guidance on other aspects of our COVID response procedures, such as contact tracing, and provide more information to all members of the SSD community as we prepare for this significant transition in our buildings.
I know that this is a lot of information, shared at a time when exhaustion from the impacts of the pandemic is at an all-time high. Please know that we will immediately begin working on what it means to the systems and structures in place, to move to a “mask optional” format in the near future. We have always been a community that bands together for the students we serve, and I ask that we all continue to work together to care and look out for one another as we continue to move forward.
Dr. Heather Cordie