By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

McMinnville plans for school’s start

Educators will work with families on specific concerns

McMinnville students will need to wear masks, as required by the state, upon return to in-person classes Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Gov. Kate Brown called for masks in schools earlier this month, and Wednesday called for everyone to wear masks in indoor public settings, as well.

Although some school districts are bucking the school mask mandate, McMinnville will follow it, Superintendent Debbie Brockett said.

Masks are part of the effort to protect students who aren’t yet old enough to be vaccinated and staff members and others who have compromised immunity, the superintendent told the school board.

Even with masks required, Brockett said, “we will do all we can to make the school environment as normal as possible.” She added that the district wants schools to be “a welcoming, safe environment when students return.”

About 10 parents and grandparents spoke out against the mask mandate at the McMinnville School Board’s meeting Monday in person or through written comments.

Whether children wear masks should be the parents’ decision, they said, and some cited difficulty breathing, fear and lack of social cues as reasons for not wearing them. Two more asked for options to returning to schools, and a couple said they would keep their children home if masks were required.

Another four, including a McMinnville High School student, said they think requiring masks is the right thing to do. They said using masks is a small sacrifice to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We can do small gestures for one another that have a long-term effect,” said Ileana Barsotti, who is starting her freshman year.

The district is putting together plans for the start of school, the first time students will be in buildings all day, five days a week, since March 13, 2020.

Oregon schools closed abruptly that day because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic. At first, educators expected to resume classes in two weeks, then at the end of April. But the building closure, and switch to online education, extended through the rest of the school year.

In September 2021, teachers and students returned to a more formal type of online learning, called Comprehensive Distance Learning. In McMinnville, that lasted until mid-March for elementary students and mid-April for those in middle school and high school.

When students did return, it was for only part of the day and week, with the rest spent learning online. Students returned in small groups and were required to observe pandemic safety rules, including sitting farther apart, using barriers around desks, and wearing masks.

About two-thirds of families sent their children back to buildings for the hybrid learning, while the others continued CDL.

This fall, the district is hoping all students return to classes full time. “I’m so excited for my kids to get back to school,” said Jason Bizon, who joined the school board in July.

Board chairman Carson Benner agreed, saying, “We’re excited for in-person learning.”

Registration will be this month at Duniway and Patton middle schools and McMinnville High School. Returning elementary students need not register; students new to the district can do so through the website,

Kourtney Ferrua, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district, said educators are still in the planning stages.

While some parents have inquired about being able to continue distance learning, she said the district has not yet decided whether that will be offered.

She suggested parents call their school principals to talk about individual circumstances, options and safety procedures.

Pandemic precautions in all the district’s schools will continue, with a focus on mental as well as physical health, Ferrua said.

To address mental and emotional health, the district has added counselors, people who will help students develop coping skills, and partnerships with community health agencies. Funds from the $9.4 million Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) grant will help the district address mental health support, as well as instruction and slightly reduced class size.

Student Services Director Kevin Carroll said his team will work with individual special education students and their parents to determine if any specific accommodations are needed.

Although classes will be close to the size they were before the pandemic, students and teachers still will socially distance, use hand sanitizer and wash hands frequently, and sanitize surfaces between use, in addition to wearing masks. Rapid COVID tests are available, but the district cannot require anyone to take them, said Steffani Frost, personnel director.

The district has strengthened its communicable disease management policy because of the pandemic, Frost said. The policy addresses how schools will cope if a student or staff member shows signs of illness; measures include isolation rooms to keep others safe.

Precautions not only are district policy and mandated by the state, Ferrua said, but they’re also common sense in order to protect students, staff and the community at large.

“Like they say, ‘we’re all done with COVID, but it’s not done with us,’” said Ferrua, who was principal of Wascher Elementary School prior to joining the district administrative team.

One good thing came out of the time spent in distance learning, she said: District and school officials learned more about communicating with parents.

“We need to engage families and understand their perspectives as we make decisions,” she said.

Board hears ample opposition to school mask enforcement

More than a dozen people commented in person or in writing at the Monday school board meeting about masks, local and parental control, and safety issues when schools reopen in September. Here are some of the comments:

n “We know how important it is to have students back in the classroom with their peers and teachers. We know how exciting and important it is to feel a sense of normal again,” wrote Amanda Gregory, parent and school employee. 

Noting that children younger than 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, she asked the district to follow recommendations of the CDC and other agencies and mandate mask wearing.

n Former school employee Cindy Schroeder said she is opposed to requiring masks for students.

“Masking out kids ... the results are all over the map,” she wrote. “I believe the final decision should be the parents’! They know what is best for their own children.”

n A grandparent, Angela Linck, asked the district to make masks optional. Children have a very low infection rate and are not at risk like other groups, she wrote, adding that masking should be up to parents.

n Parent Natasha Dillon called the mask mandate “purely political” and said it ignores science and “overlooks the damage to our children’s social development and mental health.”

She asked the district to “continue to show the strength and leadership you demonstrated throughout the pandemic ... Fight back against this arbitrary mandate and insist on a return to local control.”

n A father, Randal Sheldon, said he feels “extremely uncomfortable” sending his child to in-person learning. 

n Jackieblu Loya, a mother of two, said masks haven’t been proven to stop the virus. “This has gone on long enough. Our children have already fallen behind in their education ... they don’t deserve more punishment,” she wrote. 

She said she will consider taking her children out of McMinnville schools if mask mandates continue.

n A father, Tyson Smith, asked the district to make masks optional and let parents decide. He cited children’s psychological health.

“Children are literally killing themselves over these bs lockdowns and mandates,” he wrote. “Make the children a priority!”

n Shannon Ingebrand, a mother of two elementary students, said she’s hoping for online or hybrid learning; otherwise she will likely home school her children until they can be vaccinated.

“I just want to make the right choices for my children, but also be able to keep them healthy and safe,” she wrote.

With no distance learning options announced yet and the start of school just a few weeks away, she said, “I am stuck in a bit of a bad spot.”

n A woman who wrote to county commissioners, as well as district officials, Jubilee Cable, said she didn’t send her child to kindergarten last year because “I knew she would not thrive with the paranoid and strict rules.” She would like to enroll her child in school this year, she said, because of those rules that would require her to continually wash her hands, be six feet apart from others and “above all, wear a mask.”

“This is not a safe environment for children’s mental health, and the mark has been completely missed,” she wrote, adding her concerns about the youth suicide rate.

n Kate Bonilla, a mother and school psychologist, wrote with questions about how the district will keep children safe from the Delta variant. 

“I hope we can see beyond individual interest and consider how we can protect the most vulnerable folks in our schools and larger community,” she wrote.

Bonilla also spoke in person at the board meeting, asking the board to “use evidence-based safety procedures,” including following the mask mandate. She added that ventillation and air filtration are key.

n McMinnville High School freshman Ileana Barsotti said the distance learning was “not ideal” for her. When hybrid education started last spring, she was able to “rediscover my love of learning,” as well as to enjoy being with her teachers and peers.

She said she’s willing to wear a mask in order to keep school buildings open and help others stay safe. She also suggested finding creative solutions such as holding some classes outside, opening windows or having open-air activities before and after school.

n Amy Conover, mother of one Mac High graduate and two who are still in high school, said she is an advocate for parental choice. “I don’t believe masks protect anybody,” she said, adding that student athletes were especially negatively impacted by the mask rule.

She also said the school district “didn’t do enough to help students move on to college” during the pandemic. She would like to have more options, such as online learning, for her kids.


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