Tatum Reed loves cats, playing soccer at recess and learning math. What she doesn’t love is wearing a face mask.
“It’s hard to breathe in them,” she said.
Tatum is a second grade student at East Sutherlin Primary School and she said when she took off her mask she was taken to the principal’s office where she had to sit by herself.
Her father, Brian Reed, supports and encourages his daughter in standing up for herself.
“I personally find masking children to be abusive,” Brian Reed said. “Knowing that there are children around the state that have recently had serious medical problems due to masking, and yet they still don’t do anything about it. It’s abusive. It’s an abuse of power. It’s an abuse to children. It’s psychologically harmful, physically harmful. The list goes on. And it breaks state laws.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends schools continue to prioritize the correct wearing of masks and physical distancing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Tim Heider said, “The guidance from OHA is aligned with CDC guidance and is created by Senior Health Advisors for OHA all of whom are physicians and trained medical professionals with years of experience in public health.”
Brian Reed filed a case with the Department of Human Services on the treatment of his daughter, as he believes that isolating his daughter away from her classmates is a violation of state law.
Tatum, and her dad, are not alone in their fight against masks for children.
At the May 12 school board meeting for Roseburg Public Schools, Linda Snyder spoke out against face coverings as well.
“My grandchildren go to Fir Grove Elementary School and they are out there in the hot sun, their hair is getting wet from sweat, they’re being forced to wear a mask on the playground, all day long,” she said. “My grandson was sent to the principal’s office for not wanting to wear his mask, and he told me all I want to do is be able to breathe.”
Teachers and administrators said that most students have no problem wearing a mask all day, although some students do need reminders throughout the day.
“Our students have done a wonderful job adjusting to and following new safety precautions this year, including mask wearing, without the need of the district implementing consequences,” Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said. “For those students and families who chose to learn from home due to mask requirements, we have continued to provide comprehensive distance learning.”
School districts are required to follow health regulations put forth by the state, with consequences if they do not.
“The District must follow Oregon law, which includes the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority regulations and the Ready School, Safe Learners requirements,” Sutherlin School District Superintendent Terry Prestianni said in a statement. “By law, face coverings are required for all students in grades kindergarten and up attending in-person learning, although there are certain accommodations that may be made depending on a child’s unique medical or disability needs. School staff are also required to continue following these face covering regulations and requirements. Sutherlin School District understands that there can be confusion and frustration over these state-level requirements, but right now our first concern is keeping our students safe and in school learning.”
Cordon echoed the statement that the face masks are worn in schools for health and safety reasons, adding they do not just protect students but also staff, families and the entire community.
According to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, schools that do no comply with the state’s guidance can see their State School Fund payments withheld as a means of last resort. Cordon also pointed out the complaints made to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration can result in expensive fines for the district.
“We are fortunate that all of our safety protocols and practices this year have minimized COVID cases in our schools,” Cordon said. “The limited cases that have occurred at our schools have primarily been the result of students or staff coming to school with COVID. There has been no evidence of community spread within our schools. We have avoided large-scale quarantines and school closures, which has allowed our students to maximize in-person learning.”
In Roseburg, more than 36,000 masks have been distributed to students, staff and authorized visitors who forgot their masks or do not have consistent access to masks.
But not all school districts are content with the state’s guidance on masks.
Crook County School District Superintendent Sara Johnson wrote a letter to the Oregon Department of Education on May 14, asking them to revise mask policies for athletes after a high school student lost consciousness and stopped breathing during basketball practice.
“Student safety is one of our highest priorities,” Johnson wrote. “The rules that were developed by public health leaders early on in the pandemic should be reviewed and reconsidered as we recognize the impact those policies may have on students participating in athletics.”
No schools in Douglas County have made official pleas, either through school administration or school boards, with the Oregon Department of Education in recent weeks to lift the mask mandates for students, according to Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill and the department’s government and legal affairs manager.
The Crook County High School freshman basketball player is not the first in the state to blame the face covering for a medical emergency. A Summer High School student collapsed while running the 800-meter dash.
Snyder pled with the Roseburg school board to change the face mask rules for students in order to protect their health.
“I don’t know how long you’re gonna wait on the mask thing — to take them off the children — but you don’t want somebody passing out before you act on it,” Snyder said. “Please, really consider it. You don’t want a child going unconscious and that’s going to be on the hands of the community leaders like you guys. So please, really consider it. It’s very, very important.”
Athletes in outdoor non-contact sports can now go without masks, while indoor sports still require face coverings. The CDC recommends limiting high-intensity indoor activities.
The Oregon Health Authority also recommended that people will not be required to wear face coverings outside, including during outdoor physical education, outdoor music, recess and when arriving or leaving campus.
While inside, people will need to continue wearing masks.
Cordon pointed out that students are allowed to take mask breaks under the current guidance.
“As temperatures have risen this spring and students spend more time outdoors in the sun, our staff monitor students very closely and encourage them to remain hydrated, avoid becoming overheated and take mask breaks as often as needed,” Cordon said.
While some changes have recently been made to the mask guidance for adults, one rule has stayed consistent: students need to wear masks in schools.
“The majority of students are not eligible to get vaccinated at this time and the time frame for those who are eligible is not to the point where they could receive both shots and waited the two weeks to be fully protected,” Oregon Department of Education spokesperson Peter Rudy said. “Our guidance is consistent with the guidance of CDC and OHA, who seem to agree that school children deserve continued protection from COVID infection via school based mask wearing, which is one of the most effective means to mitigate the spread of COVID.”
People ages 12 and up are eligible to get the vaccine, with anyone under the age of 14 requiring a signature from a parent.
Vaccinated school staff are not required to wear face coverings or physically distance indoors when there are no students present, such as before or after school or on weekends.
The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported that as of Monday 50% of eligible Douglas County residents, 47,647 to be exact, over the age of 16 had received their at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. The vaccine is free and accessible.
“It’s not something that I’m willing to really put in my body until it has been tested and proven over several years, like every other vaccine in existence,” Brian Reed said. “I’m not anti-vaccine, by any means. I’ve had a lot of inoculations when I was in the military, but I’ve seen what can happen to that one in a million person. It’s happened in front of my eyes, he had full-body temporary paralysis. He had to relearn how to walk, a full grown man. If that can happen to a full grown man. What can I do to a child, and, you know, out about that.”
Several public universities in Oregon will require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before coming on campus in the fall of 2021. Oregon K-12 schools have not made the vaccine a requirement for attending school, although immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and hepatitis A are required.