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Alsea school closed Monday and Tuesday due to staffing shortage

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Alsea school district

ALSEA, Ore. -- A school in rural Oregon shut down due to staffing shortages just days after the district superintendent announced that mask use would be optional in defiance of state COVID-19 requirements.

Superintendent Marc Thielman announced that the Alsea K-12 Charter School would be closed Monday and Tuesday due to a staffing shortage. The public charter school is the only one in the small rural district in Benton County, located along Highway 34 roughly between Philomath and Waldport.

In his letter to parents Sunday, Thielman wrote: "Omicron is reaching its peak in our school/communities, and currently it has created the perfect storm between staff positive cases, quarantine needs due to some one in the household being positive, as well as many Preschool and Daycare closures necessitating too many staff absences for us to safely operate school tomorrow."

This closure also affects extracurricular activities.

School is scheduled to be back in-person on January 26.

This comes after Thielman announced Friday night he would be making mask wearing optional for staff and students beginning Monday.

Thielman explained the decision came when Samaritan Health Services recently changed masking guidance for patients and visitors at their facilities amid the omicron surge.

Samaritan's new guidance, released January 10, said people must wear a medical grade mask at their sites. Paper and cloth masks are no longer acceptable.

Thielman said this recent change fueled teachers and students to get into unhealthy conflicts which resulted in the school board drafting a resolution about health and safety guidance.

"Remember, we have to balance health and safety policy with negative impacts on the learning environments," said Thielman. "We're getting less learning done because we're spending more time in unhealthy engagement."

Thielman said he is not abandoning the mask mandate, but applying the rules in a different way. He said the decision is not political but to support every family in his district.

"If I was applying my politics, I would've banned masks a long time ago," Thielman said. "I am a leader who listens to people. I'm here for 100% of my parents. I'm not judging anyone."

He said there are resources available for those worried about the spread of the virus including extra N95 and KN95 masks, as well as computers for distance learning.

"We're going to invite parents in so that we can create some unity," Thielman said. 

Students must still wear a mask at all times while riding a bus because of the federal requirements.

Thielman said other protocols like hand washing, social distancing and daily sanitation will stay in place.

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