SOUTHERN OREGON, —As schools try to figure out how to deal with the state’s vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, one local district is taking a different, and far stricter approach. In checking with local school districts, we’ve learned they’re taking many different approaches. Some districts are providing more leeway for their exempt staff, while the Ashland School District is taking a stronger approach.
One week after Oregon school employees are required to either have an exemption or be vaccinated to continue working, schools are navigating how to approach those exempt on campus.
“We are working to ensure that all our employees do follow all those rules,” said Bret Champion, Medford School District Superintendent.
Under the statewide rule, schools that grant an exception to the vaccination requirement must, “Take reasonable steps to ensure that unvaccinated school-based program staff and volunteers are protected from contracting and spreading Covid.”
For most districts, that means requiring unvaccinated staff to wear a more protective mask, at all times. The Grants Pass School District said employees who seek an exemption, have to wear an N95 mask, in order to continue working. It’s a similar situation for the Medford School District.
“A fitted N95 mask is something the state gave us as an example of something that can be used, KN95 is very similar to an N95 mask, we’ve seen some of those put into place, double masking, a mask with a shield if you’re working directly with students,” said MSD Assistant Superintendent Brad Earl.
The Central Point School District says, it initially asked unvaccinated staff to wear an N95 mask. Superintendent Walt Davenport says that was met with concern, because it would, in effect, identify who wasn’t vaccinated.
“We went through and looked at the requirements for masking at CDC and OHA; combined that language to come up with the guidance that fits having an extra layer of protection by having that mask better fitted then compared to just those typical surgical masks,” said Superintendent Davenport.
In other cases, it means more social distancing during lunch or regular Covid testing provided by the school. A spokesperson for the Phoenix-Talent School District tells us eating and drinking will not take place in a shared place or room.
“We have an accommodations list that we’ve gone through obviously ensuring social distancing, double masking, being very cognizant that mealtime is a risk of exposure and being cognizant where staff eats its meals, and there’s a weekly testing option through the OHA, ” said Superintendent Brent Barry.
The Ashland School District appears to have taken the biggest step in southern Oregon, to keep children safe. Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove says, classroom staff, who are closest to children, must be 100% vaccinated.
“Approval of an exemption doesn’t necessarily mean that we were able to develop a plan for the individual to continue in their current role,” said Superintendent Bogdanove.
He says other staff can wear a KN95 mask, undergo regular weekly testing, have greater physical distancing, or do remote work. But teachers must be fully vaccinated. In a few instances, Superintendent Bogdanove says staff was offered a different kind of work or position where they wouldn’t be at such a high risk of transmission.
“There are some individuals, very small numbers that were either moved to other roles or put on unpaid leave,” said Superintendent Bogdanove.
He says it was a tough decision by the district, that ultimately needed to be made, to keep the classroom environment safe.
“The job of schools is to keep kids learning and connecting and keep them in school and to do that we have to keep them healthy and safe and we really felt it was important to do everything that we could to reduce risk of transmission,” said Bogdanove.
Moving forward schools districts continue to navigate the transition in different ways while working to keep children safe.