During a nearly four hour board meeting on Wednesday Sept. 1, the Eugene District 4J board discussed updates on returning to school and mitigating COVID-19, speaking with several local experts on how the virus is spreading in Lane County. One doctor pointed out that it’s not if but when COVID will spread in schools.
The board also started the process for creating a new cohesive language arts curriculum for primary and secondary students.
In battling the spread of COVID-19 in schools, all students and staff are required to wear masks at all times, except when eating and drinking. Per state mandates, all school staff and visitors must also be vaccinated by Oct. 18.
Some parents expressed concern with returning to schools while the Delta variant runs rampant, during the public comment portion of the meeting, pointing out that children under 12 still cannot be vaccinated.
Other parents argued for wearing masks outside while playing sports — which is currently an exception to state mask rules. A petition is circling around the community asking for schools to have children eat outside.
One second grade student, Skyla Chavez, spoke to the board via Zoom, asking them to have kids eat outside under tents. Chavez even suggested students could paint the tents as an art project.
“Kids can’t sit far apart in there and we can’t eat with our masks on. Maybe we can eat lunch outside like we do at a restaurant,” Chavez said.
The board also heard from two PeaceHealth doctors, who answered questions on how the Delta variant is spreading as well as the latest guidelines on masking and the three-foot social distancing classrooms will implement.
When board members asked about how to keep COVID-19 out of schools and questioned whether these protocols will stop the spread of the virus, Dr. Robert Pelz, who specializes in infectious disease, said it wouldn’t.
“There will be transmission of COVID and 4J in either students or teachers,” Pelz said. “I think 4J and the state need to be prepared for how they are going to respond. Not if but when things like that are going to happen.”
Later, the board voted to initiate the adoption process of curriculum for both primary and secondary students. The original proposal was to create a singular literacy suite which would provide consistent learning materials across classes. This would also be aligned with Oregon Department of Education’s standards.
The board discussed this for a while, with board member Gordon Lafer disagreeing on the idea of having a singular curriculum. He said he believes teachers need to be more flexible with what they teach and added that there is no evidence that lower graduation rates are affected by students using different books or doing different exercises across classes.
“I think we have to avoid using equity as an argument for uniformity,” Lafer said.
Other board members disagreed, and said to trust the teachers that proposed the single curriculum.
“I think we should listen to our professionals. We should listen to teachers because these are teachers who are well seasoned and know what they are doing,” Alicia Hayes said.
After debating back and forth, the board was still divided on whether the motion should specify the curriculum is singular or not. An amendment was proposed to take out the idea of a singular curriculum and leave that open to interpretation.
Board members Lafer, Maya Rabasa, Laural O’Rourke and Martina Shabram voted in favor of the amendment. Judy Newman, Hayes and Mary Walston voted against it. The motion passed.