Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, South Lane School District (SLSD) will continue with in-person classes and sports largely without changes to the order of the typical school day.
“We have emergency plans if we had to do CDL (Comprehensive Distance Learning), but it isn’t something that we’re robustly planning for,” said South Lane School District Superintendent Yvonne Curtis during a Jan. 10 SLSD Board meeting. “We’re doing a little bit of the crossing the fingers and watching those numbers.”
Oregon reported a 22 percent positive test rate over the weekend as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads and sets record highs in daily cases. SLSD, too, has felt the spike, but Curtis pointed out the relative lack of severity of the new variant.
“While the number of cases amongst our students and staff is predicted to go up following the holiday break (we are seeing that now), illness is less severe,” said Curtis in a letter to staff last week. “For the first time in the pandemic, the more serious outcomes (severe illness, hospitalization, etc) are not increasing at the same trajectory as the infection rate, which is welcomed news.”
Though Omicron is more transmissible than Delta, ODE guidance continues to advise in-person instruction.
“Our North Star remains holding school in-person, for all students, every school day, all year long,” said Director of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) Colt Gill in a letter to Oregon educators on Dec. 17. “Keeping students in school is critical for the educational and social emotional health of our students.”
He emphasized the need to take every possible step to reduce spread so that students and staff remain healthy and at school.
As schools returned from break, ODE recommended districts “double-down” on layered mitigation efforts, including re-teaching appropriate use of face coverings, reestablishing physical distancing practices, incorporating frequent handwashing, and rechecking ventilation systems.
It also recommended working with health partners to set up vaccination clinics and encouraging eligible students and adults to get their vaccinations and boosters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended several changes in quarantine and isolation guidelines that have been adopted by state and county health agencies, as well as ODE and SLSD.
In short, quarantine and isolation length has been reduced to five days as long as there are no COVID symptoms at the end of the five days. In SLSD, school nursing staff, with guidance from Lane County Public Health, will assist staff and students in determining the end of isolation and quarantine.
There are also other masking requirements for those who are not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated (for the purpose of isolation and quarantine) is defined as completing the initial vaccine cycle (1-2 shots depending on brand) and receiving a booster shot.
The South Lane district continues to encourage wearing KN95 masks as well.
Sports ‘carry on’
Regarding sports, OHA and ODE have issued an advisory stating that if schools continue to host extracurricular activities, “they should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19 that could prevent students from being able to attend class in-person due to isolation and quarantine periods.
Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) Executive Director Peter Weber has also recommended schools either put extracurricular activities on pause or implement more guidelines to stop the spread of COVID to student athletes.
Local school districts are choosing to move ahead with their sports programs.
“At this time, our intentions are to carry on with extracurricular activities,” said Cottage Grove High School Principal Kevin Harrington in a statement released last week. “Therefore, we need your support in reminding students to wear masks over their nose and mouth inside our school buildings at all times. We will also require all spectators to wear masks inside during our athletic contests. We want all of our students to continue to participate in their extracurricular activities.”
Curtis stands with the decision to keep the athletes playing and students in the classroom.
“We’re going to continue to maintain those (extracurricular activities), as long as we have the adults there that need to be there for them to go on,” said Curtis in Monday’s school board meeting. “We will continue to go on and we are asking our families and all spectators to help us by making sure they have their mask on when they enter and they keep it on the entire time.”
Just up the road, the Creswell School District echoed the same sentiment as South Lane by wanting to keep the athletics seasons going and not wanting to pause.
“At CSD, our goal for students is to ‘let them play’ while taking every precaution possible to keep them and our community safe,” said Creswell Superintendent Mike Johnson in a district-wide announcement last week. “Our kids deserve the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities; we also want to do everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID in our schools. We are currently continuing with our extracurricular activities and reviewing our safety protocols to protect the safety of our student participants, coaches, staff, and spectators. We request that you comply with the statewide indoor masking mandate and wear your mask while indoors attending our extracurricular activities.”
South Lane and Creswell School District also announced some changes to their indoor attendance regulations just like the Springfield, 4J, and Bethel School Districts have done recently.
The concession stands will now be closed going forward, mask wearing is a must and announcements about masking will continue to be made to the crowd before and during the games.
Creswell will also be adding spectator limits at the games and will be enforced by allowing each player four tickets to home games and two tickets to away games.
North Douglas School District also released a statement on Jan. 6.
“Our students love being in school and participating in athletic events,” said North Douglas Superintendent Jody Cyr. “The North Douglas School District will do everything possible to ensure that our students can continue to be here daily learning in-person and participating in extracurricular activities. We are asking that if you choose to attend an event at our schools, that you please wear a mask so our students can continue to learn in-person and compete in contests with fans in attendance.”
Curtis echoed a similar message at the Monday SLSD board meeting, calling on families and spectators to mask up before entering a venue and continue wearing the mask through the event.
“In fact, some of our smaller school districts have already published that if spectators can’t keep their mask on, then maybe they’ll have to go to no spectators in order for students to be able to continue to compete and participate,” she said.
Moving forward, athletes still will not be required to wear face coverings while actively competing in games or practice but will need to wear a mask on the bench while not actively participating in the game, in locker rooms, and any other shared indoor spaces.
Coaches will still be required to wear a mask, but officials will not be forced to.
The statewide advisory from OHA, ODE and OSAA will remain in effect until Jan. 31 with schools then being able to reassess restrictions following that timeframe.