Beyond masks: local schools implement their own Covid protocols

Four students at Ontario Middle School play basketball during a break on the first day of school for the 2021-2022 school year on Friday, Aug. 20. Students were allowed to take their masks off once outside the building. (The Enterprise/AUSTIN JOHNSON)

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VALE – Malheur County schools find themselves with significantly more requirements to adhere to than a month ago, when such decisions related to the coronavirus were under local control.

Schools opening are required to have everyone who is inside in a mask. Teachers, other school workers and volunteers face a mandate to be vaccinated against Covid.

Still, the specifics of most Covid protocols have been largely left to school leaders to work out.

With the state guidance known as Ready Schools, Safe Learners as their framework, local districts have their own plans for Covid testing, social distancing, sanitization, and ventilation. 

In Vale, physical distancing is not required, but encouraged, and cohorting is no longer in place, according to superintendent Alisha McBride State guidance recommends spacing of 3 feet. Schools are providing soap and water in their restrooms, as well as alcohol-based sanitizer on request. 

Vale school workers are being trained on health and safety protocols, and students and families will receive that information through the student handbook. Covid testing is also available at the district office for students and staff. 

Various efforts are being made to promote adequate ventilation in Vale. 

“We are currently upgrading the heating and cooling systems in Vale Elementary School grade level classrooms to improve air quality,” McBride wrote in an email. “We will also encourage staff to keep doors and windows open, when feasible, to increase air flow. Ventilation systems will be utilized to increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. System filters will be checked frequently to ensure proper functioning of the systems.”

In Ontario, Taryn Smith, public relations and communications coordinator for the school district, said that 6 feet of social distancing is still encouraged. 

Students or staff who contract Covid must quarantine for 10 days, and those in contact with the infected person must quarantine as recommended by Malheur County Health Department unless they are vaccinated, Smith said. 

Sanitizer will be available at the entrances to each Ontario school building, and efforts will be made to sanitize surfaces between student groups, as well as to limit the sharing of materials between students. Rapid Covid testing will be available at all schools to students and staff. 

Smith said that a recent outside audit showed that Ontario’s current ventilation system was performing at or above standard.

In Nyssa, according to Superintendent Darren Johnson, social distancing of 3 to 6 feet will be maintained. Frequent handwashing will be encouraged, and all quarantine guidelines will be followed under the guidance of the county health department. 

“All people will be asked to monitor for symptoms and report them to their health care providers,” said Johnson. 

And in Adrian, Superintendent Kevin Purnell said that there would be 3 feet minimum spacing between students, but 6 feet when possible. There will also be nightly cleaning, hand sanitizer at every entrance, and hand sanitizer in all the rooms. While breakfast will still be grab-and-go, with students eating in the classroom, at lunch the cafeteria will serve food, with students afforded 6x feet of distance between them. Covid testing will be available to students with parent permission. 

Purnell said all buildings have up-to-date ventilation. He also said that in the event of an outbreak, schools would follow the county’s quarantine recommendations. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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