EAGLE POINT, Ore. — The Eagle Point School District has joined their counterparts in Medford in lobbying Governor Kate Brown to return decisions over coronavirus countermeasures in schools to local school and public health officials.
The Eagle Point School District 9 Board of Directors passed a resolution this week to urge Governor Brown for a return to local control, asking that EPSD be allowed to work with Jackson County Public Health on determining "the appropriate mitigation strategies for our schools."
Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Education at the end of July to require masks indoors for K-12 students and staff. That mandate was followed this week by a broad requirement statewide for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, in indoor public spaces.
The Governor's decisions come amid a statewide surge in both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, overwhelming the ability of healthcare systems to handle the volume of sick patients with staffing stretched incredibly thin.
In a letter accompanying the resolution, Superintendent Andrew Kovach acknowledged the existing threat from the Delta variant while echoing the demand for local control.
"We understand perfectly that the arrival of the Delta variant is significant and that we at EPSD9 would have needed to review our planned procedures for the coming school year whether or not your office had taken any action," Kovach wrote. "We understand as well that your decision gave us, the leadership of this school district, short-term political cover for an unpopular decision that we would quite possibly have had to make ourselves."
Nevertheless, Kovach said that Brown's decision to take back local control after only few weeks of restoring that authority is "harmful in the long-term," eroding trust in the Governor's future decisions and undermining faith that local institutions can make difficult decisions.
Brown said in a press conference Wednesday that local officials had not reacted quickly enough to the current conditions, forcing her hand.
"In late January, Eagle Point was one of the first Oregon school districts to return to in-person instruction," Kovach continued. "We did so safely with robust systems that maintained a low rate (10%) of quarantine for many months. We did so while the larger proportion of Oregon students, including children of color and children in poverty, remained in virtual instruction."
Kovach asked Brown to give the resolution her "strongest consideration."
While COVID-19 has proven to be less harmful to children and teens than older adults, the advent of the Delta variant and widespread availability of vaccines has changed the landscape of where cases are emerging. Because the vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12 and vaccination rates are highest among seniors, cases are skewing younger.
Jackson County Public Health reported Friday that only 7 percent of recent cases are among people 70 and older, while ages 19 and younger represented 15 percent of cases. Ages 20 through 39 amounted to 39 percent of cases. About 30 percent of cases were 50 or older.