NEWBERG, Ore. — Newberg Public Schools will end its mask mandate in school buildings on April 1, the district announced in a post on its website on Monday.
The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education announced last week that they would lift the statewide mask mandates for indoor public spaces and schools on March 31, based on current trends that show statewide COVID-19 hospitalization rates will recede to pre-omicron levels by then.
The Department of Education's overarching goal is to keep schools open for in-person instruction, director Colt Gill said on Friday. Universal masking in schools slows the spread of the virus, leading to fewer instances in which schools are forced to go remote because too many teachers are out sick.
Once case levels revert to pre-omicron levels, the absences should fall to manageable levels even without the masks, he said. At that point, individual districts will be able to set their own masking policies based on their local conditions.
In Newberg's case, the district wrote that after March 31, masks will be "strongly recommended, but not required, in our school buildings."
The district said it would use the remaining weeks of February and March to create plans to keep immunocompromised staff and students as safe as possible once the mandate ends.
The post references recent anti-mask protests in other Portland-area school districts and states that district policy allows Newberg students to protest and express their views on causes in an orderly fashion that does not disrupt operation of the school.
The district stressed that the policy gives students, but not adults, the right to protest on school grounds while school is in session.
"We want to be clear that adults do not have permission to be on school grounds to participate in a protest or demonstration, nor to enter any building without a volunteer badge and an official education-based reason," the district wrote.
The Oregon Department of Education said it is not keeping track of what individual districts plan to do after March 31. Many other districts, including some of Newberg's neighbors, have not made definitive announcements yet.
Amity School District superintendent Jeff Clark told KGW his district will lift mask requirements as soon as the state mandate ends. He said he would make masks optional sooner if he could, citing low case numbers and hospitalizations in his district population.
"I sit on the Oregon Small Schools Association Board, and we represent over a hundred districts across Oregon," Clark explained. "It's pretty unanimous across those districts that they, like Amity, could pretty quickly move into this mode and don't need [until March 31]."
The Yamhill Carlton School District and Canby School District also announced in letters to parents that they would make masks optional after March 31.
"We plan to collaborate with our local health authority on the details of topics like contact tracing and quarantine," Canby superintendent Dr. Aaron Downs wrote.
The Sheridan and Willamina school districts both said they were still working on the topic or gathering feedback, with plans to be announced in the coming weeks.