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Split Redmond School Board refuses to fire Terrebonne teacher over mask refusal

(Update: Adding video, comments)

Board votes 3-2 to reject superintendent's recommendation of termination

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- On a split 3-2 vote Wednesday evening, the Redmond School Board rejected Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline's recommendation to terminate a Terrebonne fourth-grade teacher for refusing to wear a mask in class.

In a rare occurrence, Cline led a termination hearing evening for Tori Caudell of Terrebonne Community School.

"I'm sorry to be here today," Cline said. "It's not what I desire to do. It's what I have to do."

Cline said he had the extremely unpleasant task of holding the hearing to recommend the termination of Caudell following her insubordination for not wearing a mask.

Caudell said she has been a committed teacher for 23 years, and claimed she's standing up for her people and her medical freedom, and has no intention of ever wearing a mask.

She said the rest of the school district is following what she called "tyrants" and that the state's mask mandate is not legal.

Based on the school board's procedure, Cline and Caudell were each given 15 minutes to speak, followed by a five-minute rebuttal by both parties.

"I appreciate that Ms. Caudell has a broad base of support and that people have appreciated her work over time," Cline said. "I've received tons of emails about that, and I also appreciate the challenges associated with wearing a mask all day, but that is what the law is right now."

Cline says the district has to follow the current mask mandate, and allowing Caudell to be an exception could set a poor legal precedent moving forward.

"The OHA mask regulation is a law that we are all required to follow, and all of our staff members, save Ms. Caudell, are following it," Cline said.

Caudell says her decision is not politically motivated, and she's simply taking a stance she believes in.

"Integrity is to accept the right, whether people are watching or not," Caudell said. "I'm taking a stand because I have integrity. I'm not taking a stand to be stubborn or non-compliant. I'm doing what I believe to be the best for our kids."

Caudell says masks are a petri dish for bacteria, and she has difficulty breathing throughout the day while trying to speak to her students.

"They deserve better from all of us," Caudell said, her voice quavering with emotion. "We are here to protect them and advocate for them. I'm honest and I always have been. My honesty comes to my detriment. Ask any of my friends, family, or principal. I speak my truth every day." 

A motion to accept Cline's recommendation and terminate Caudell failed for lack of a second.

On a second motion, to reject the recommendation and retain Caudell, the three in favor were school board members Michael Summers, Shawn Hartfield and Keri Lopez. The two who voted against in were Liz Goodrich and Jill Cummings

Several school board members said although Caudell did violate the mask mandate, they considered termination was a last resort and wanted to seek other alternatives.

Board member Michael Summers says the district should find an alternative for Caudell before firing her.

"I feel like there's a solution here," Summers said. "I don't see why there couldn't be an accomodation to do what she does from home. I think there's a path aside from termination."

School district spokeswoman Sheila Miller said, "The district will work with the employee to determine an employment decision regarding Ms. Caudell’s assignment. We haven’t had a situation like this before, so we are not yet sure what that process will look like." 

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus
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Alec Nolan

Alec Nolan is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Alec here.

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