SMS adjusting Outdoor School


Last updated 10/3/2023 at 10:06am

Sisters Middle School (SMS) is modifying its Outdoor School program, which runs October 16-18 at Camp Tamarack west of Sisters.

In response to a variety of parent concerns, the school is offering an option for students to attend only during the day rather than staying overnight, and the opportunity for parent volunteers to stay overnight at the camp, according to SMS Principal Tim Roth.

Last year, the Outdoor School experience became a focus of controversy when the Culver School District pulled students from a three-day/two-night excursion to the camp after some of them reported feeling uncomfortable with the gender identity of some of the high-school-age counselors. Sisters students had attended the camp prior to Culver. Some Sisters parents were displeased at what they felt was inadequate communication about Camp Tamarack’s policies around gender identity.

Camp Tamarack’s website states: “At Camp Tamarack we support a student’s right to self-identify autonomously as outlined by the Oregon Department of Education. During their time at Camp Tamarack students retain the right to use facilities corresponding with their gender identity as expressed or to have access to a private or single-use facility. Camp Tamarack has private, single-use bathrooms, changing, and showering facilities available for any students desiring increased privacy regardless of identity, expression, or background. Students that identify as a male will be placed in male cabins, students that identify as female will be placed in female cabins. Students that do not identify within the gender binary will be placed with male or female cabins according to their friend group or as assigned by their school counselor or guardian.”

The same policy applies to high school-age counselors.

Some parents have expressed discomfort with the policy, which could allow a biological male counselor to be in a cabin with female campers, or a biological female in a cabin with male campers.

Roth said that there are some families that are opting out because of that issue, along with other concerns like simply feeling that their child is not ready for an overnight, or medical issues.

“There’s definitely been family concerns, and some families saying, ‘Y’know, we’re not going to participate,” Roth said.

The principal noted that Outdoor School, while considered a milestone and a valuable experience for students, “is not mandatory for anybody.”

There are 95 students in the sixth-grade class that traditionally participates in Outdoor School. Roth said he doesn’t yet know how many families will opt out completely.

“I don’t know what those numbers look like yet,” he said.

Roth said that the school will provide substantive activities for students who choose not to attend, but he doesn’t have details on what the programming will be yet.

“I don’t have that clear yet,” he said, “but we’re going to offer something for the kids if they’re here (at the school). We’re not going to have them just sit in a room and read a book. We’re going to see what the numbers are and design it around that.”

Roth also said that he is working with the transportation department to make sure that those who choose the day-only option have transportation to and from Camp Tamarack. He said the school is also actively recruiting for counselors from Sisters.

And he encouraged interested parents to volunteer.

“You’re more than welcome to be a parent volunteer, and come up and spend the night,” he said.

Roth said that the SMS staff and Camp Tamarack are seeking to be as transparent as possible, hosting an in-person parent meeting on plans for Outdoor School, which he said about 70 percent of the parents of sixth graders attended.

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Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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