The chairwoman of the Redmond School Board rejected a letter Tuesday from Gov. Kate Brown who was responding to school leaders who said they would defy the state’s mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Shawn Hartfield, the chairwoman of the Redmond School Board, told The Bulletin that Brown’s letter “fails to address her broken promises to Oregonians across the State.”
“She set a goal of 70% vaccination rate to return local control and Oregonians believed her,” Hartfield said in an email. “We believed her at Redmond School District and created a plan for a safe return to school for all of our students and staff.”
Hartfield said the community was “finally finding ways to come together.”
“Her one size fits all rules and mandates are not what we need in our community,” Hartfield said. “We want local control back as she promised.”
The school board on Aug. 11 voted to consider a resolution opposing the mandate during a special meeting that drew hundreds of parents and others against masking into a packed auditorium where police officers watched the entrances. Most of the board members supported masking being a choice left up to parents.
Superintendent Charan Cline, however, told the board after the vote that the school district, which is the second largest in Central Oregon with more than 7,000 students, would follow the mandate and require masks.
Brown, in a letter sent Monday, said she is aware of school board members and administrators expressing a willingness to defy, ignore and undermine school mask requirements. She said she is also aware of school boards passing or considering formal resolutions to that effect.
But Brown stressed that the spread of the highly contagious delta variant “has changed everything,” with children becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalizations in greater numbers.
“One of the small mercies of this pandemic was that children did not seem as susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 from the original strain of the virus,” she said in her letter to Oregon’s superintendents, school board members and education leaders. “The frustrating reality is that the virus has mutated, and so we must again adapt our strategies to protect Oregon’s kids.”
The governor’s letter comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations among adults and children, driven by the delta variant, have surged to all-time highs in Oregon. State health officials Monday, in a tally that stretched to Friday, reported 355 new cases in Deschutes County.
Meanwhile, parents and others angry about masks have taken to school board meetings across Central Oregon to protest masks, along with concerns about the culture of education.
“I have heard much about personal freedom when it comes to masks in school board meetings and on social media,” the governor said in her letter. “I have not heard as much said about personal responsibility.
“As leaders, we have a great responsibility to our students and their futures. One of the sacred, fundamental responsibilities of a school district and its leaders is to keep the children in their care safe.
“It is up to us to make clear-eyed decisions based on science and fact. Flouting mask requirements will put everything we have worked towards in the last year at risk.
“There is no ambiguity in Oregon’s mask requirements or the legal authority of Oregon OSHA to enforce those requirements. I am asking for your partnership once again, so that we can set an example for our students of how to set aside differences and work towards a common goal.”