REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) – After an impassioned debate, the Redmond School Board voted 4-1 Wednesday evening to direct Superintendent Charan Cline and district staff to draft a new COVID-19 policy by March 2 that makes masks optional, giving parents the authority to make that decision for their children.
That deadline is nearly a month before the March 31 date set by state health and education officials for lifting the mask mandate for Oregon schools, which means the district would be breaking from the state’s guidelines, if changes don’t come before then.
A similar move in the town of Alsea prompted a potential of state school funds, and that district’s superintendent was invited to give guidance to Redmond school board members during Wednesday's virtual special meeting.
A district announcement after the meeting said, “As a result of this resolution, Redmond School District administrators will work on a plan regarding this directive, and will communicate the details of that plan with families and staff.”
“In the meantime, masks will continue to be required in all of our schools and on our school buses, as will all other COVID mitigation measures, including social distancing and quarantining,” the statement concluded.
You can view the meeting video here (the executive session ended about an hour into the recording).
School board Chair Shawn Hartfield and colleague Michael Summers drafted the resolution, which was revised after a closed-door executive session to remove language referring to vaccinations or other COVID mitigation measures, focusing only on masks and face shields.
Summers said he believes Gov. Kate Brown failed to use proper process in not involving state lawmakers in the imposition of the mandates aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. And he said he'd take the heat from voters if need be, to take a stand against that action.
Summers said local school boards have been “circumnavigated,” and that as a result, “from here on out, any governor can do whatever they want, under the guise of an emergency, and go around the Legislature. That’s not how we function. Could we wait until March 31st? We could, but to me, that does not put government back in its lane.”
The lone no vote, board member Liz Goodrich, said the March 31 mandate end is so soon, it’s not worth the upheaval of trying to draft and change the rules in the final weeks.
The resolution’s initial deadline for staff was in just a week, but Cline pleaded for more time to take the necessary steps, including the required two weeks’ notice to the teachers’ union for changes in working conditions, or face a possible claim of an unfair labor practice.
But as for not acting now, Summers held his ground.
“I believe that the damages that have been done for two years to a lot of kids, my kids included -- that's unacceptable to me,” he said. “And whatever legal recourse or downsides or frustrations we cause within the district, the fines we could incur -- those are all better solutions to me than another suicide, hands down.
“Or one more day of subjecting our students -- and some of them are fine, I'm very thankful some of them are fine -- but one more day of subjecting a student to something that gives them ulcers because they are so full of anxiety, like my daughter – unacceptable. That's one day and two years too long for me. I'm unwilling to wait until the 31st to be given permission to make decisions for my daughters.”
“Well, you’re a compelling speaker, Michael, for sure,” Goodrich responded. “But I have concerns that this resolution – it’s rushed, poorly constructed, people who needed to be consulted,” such as Deschutes County public health officials.
Hartfield noted that numerous states around the country have set earlier dates to end school masking requirements and give local control back.
“The 31st is some arbitrary date that is later than every other state, and that’s not acceptable,” she said, accusing the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Education of “laying,” and making false promises, such as metrics.
“I don’t trust them anymore,” she said, noting the board has repeatedly pressed the state, but pulled back on a resolution last year to reopen schools. “We have waited, we have been patient,” she said. “Kids are being kicked out of schools. I never want to see that again. Our kids are very far behind because of the shutdowns. We don’t need seven weeks to prepare for this.”
Cline advised that while the state is crafting new guidelines, “creating a plan underneath the resolution creates a set of guidelines and a set of requirements that quite simply don’t exist under the existing plan, so I don’t know how to do that.”
Goodrich said health officials said the guidelines have saved lives. And that began a vocal exchange.
“We can sit here and argue all these numbers and come up with facts and science from both sides of the camp. At the end of the day is this good for our kids? And If you had kids in the school district right now, you’d be a lot more passionate about this.”
“I totally resent that,” Goodrich said, to which Hartman replied, “And that’s fine -- I resent the fact that you have consistently said to keep masking our kids. That bothers me.”
“Sorry not sorry,” Goodrich replied. “You know, I believe in the science of what experts tell us … Nobody here on this board is a health expert, and I choose to listen to the health experts.”
Summers said, “That’s the beauty of this policy, you have the right to do that … I respect the individual and the parent to direct that for their own children. … The fact that this position is seen as radical and lawless is insanity – it’s absolute insanity. And I refuse for it to be couched in this rebellious nature, when I am asking to be treated like an adult, and when I’m asking to be to be treated and have the right to actually direct the decisions of my child. … I‘m not trying to kill everybody. That’s the insane thing.”
Here's the revised, adopted resolution: