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Bend-La Pine School Board adopts school return plan with mask mandate at divisive meeting

(Update: Adding video, comments deicision)

Parent: 'I don't fully understand the statistics behind this'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hundreds gathered at Bend Senior High School for a tension-filled Bend-La Pine School Board meeting Tuesday evening, as many showed up in opposition to state mask mandates in the schools, while others wore masks in the school's auditorium. After emotional testimony and a break after some accusations, the board adopted the superintendents plan for returning to schools, including students wearing masks indoors in most situations

Before NewsChannel 21 even entered the building, community members on both sides of the mask debate were already arguing outside the entrance.

Many of those who opposed mask mandates became upset with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers prior to the start of the meeting when they knelt during the Pledge of Allegiance.

During a heated public comment section, many parents voiced their frustrations with mask requirements for their children, while some supported the move.

One parent, Kelly Plunkett, who works as a nursing manager at St. Charles Health System, even showed up in full PPE gear to voice her support for masks.

"Well first, I want to thank the Bend-La Pine School Board for moving forward with children to wear masks this year when school begins in September," Plunkett said.

Another parent, Jonathon Chance, who works as a high school teacher for the district, said although he is for masks this fall, he was concerned that schools were used as a vaccination site.

"I was dismayed this last spring, when the schools were used for multiple vaccination clinics," Chance said. "Our natural immunity is a natural right."

Another parent, Brandon Merritt, says he believes the school board lacks leadership.

Merritt had his initial public comment cut off, as school board members stormed out of the meeting, claiming he made personal attacks against board members.

The meeting was adjourned for a recess, and later returned, when Merritt was allowed to finish.

"You cannot be effective leaders when you lose credibility in the community and choose to not take responsibility for your actions," Merritt said. "You can, however, lead by example tonight and acknowledge these mistakes, and you might just be surprised with what you're met with -- love, empathy, compassion and forgiveness."

Others parents like Christina Emerson said they want more transparency from the school board when it comes to making decisions.

"I don't fully understand the statistics behind this or the numbers," Emerson said. "I would like to see hard data, not percentages, but numbers to show the reason behind these decisions."

Another commenter expressed her dislike for school boards in general.

"Teachers unions, PTA, school boards, and some teachers seem to have a lot of dislike for children," the woman said. "They feed off of and promote Marxism."

One parent, however, was not concerned with masks at all.

Riccardo Waites, founder of the Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly, says he's more concerned with how his children are being treated in the district.

"It doesn't matter to me if my child has a mask on or not, if they are being assaulted without justice in school," Waites said. "Mask or no mask means nothing when my daughter is being called 'n*****' on the bus." 

Former student Sonya Arnis voiced her opinion on critical race theory, despite many opposing it during the public comment section.

"What I needed to learn instead was the actual, true history of the United States, not a version that was sugar-coated, picked through and at times false," Arnis said. "I needed to learn about the Black Panther movement, as well as the civil rights movement. I needed to learn about Malcolm X, as well as Martin Luther King. I needed to learn about Stonewall and Karl Marx as well as Ruby Bridges."

Groups of people also left the meeting early following the abrupt recess, saying they were very frustrated with how everything had played out.

In the end, the school board unanimously adopted the return-to-school plan proposed by Superintendent Dr. Steven Cook. Bend-La Pine School are slated to start their fall term on Sept. 8.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Alec Nolan

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


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