The Redmond School Board will hire a Portland-based attorney to oppose state mask and vaccination mandates that have been leveled on K-12 schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The board voted 4-1 during a special meeting Tuesday to hire Thenell Law Group to represent the school district.
Shawn Hartfield, the board’s chairwoman, said she is not ready to lose employees needed to keep Redmond schools open as a result of the vaccine mandate.
“We’ve got to do something,” she said.
The action follows a resolution the board approved in late August opposing the mandates. The board demanded local control over pandemic-related safety measures and vowed it would take legal action against the mandates and the use of medical and religious exemptions.
Gov. Kate Brown announced the mask mandate in late July for everyone in K-12 schools. The vaccine mandate announced in August, gives K-12 school staff and volunteers until Oct. 18 to get vaccinated against the virus or get approved for a medical or religious exemption.
Redmond School District expects to have numbers on how many employees are vaccinated and how many filed for exemptions later this week.
The district will pay Thenell Law Group a $5,000 retainer, which will be used to pay legal fees. The legal services will cost the district $200 to $350 per hour, and if the retainer is exhausted during the case, the school board may be asked to replenish funds.
Hartfield said the district’s attorney advised the board to seek outside counsel for the issue. Money to pay for the legal services will come out of the district’s contingency funds, which are savings for unexpected costs.
Liz Goodrich, the board member who voted against hiring legal support, asked how much the board is willing to spend. She pointed to a lawsuit brought by the conservative think tank, Freedom Foundation, challenging the governor’s mask mandate that was dismissed by the Oregon Court of Appeals in September after more than a year.
“If you’re talking about 14 months of that kind of expense, is that really how we want our district money to be spent? I’m not comfortable at all with that kind of bill,” Goodrich said. “I’m not sure how this benefits our kids.”
In September, the board voted against its Superintendent Charan Cline’s recommendation to fire Tori Caudell, an elementary school teacher at Terrebonne Community School who refused to wear a mask in school. The board also asked the district to come up with a “creative” way to retain the teacher.
The school district on Monday canceled several school bus routes affecting over 140 students after seven bus drivers called in sick. It is believed the drivers called in sick as part of a coordinated walkout in protest of the governor’s vaccine mandate.