(Update: Adding district message to families)
Removes language to make clear mandates will be followed; superintendent assures they will
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) – In a pair of 3-2 votes Wednesday evening, the Redmond School Board passed a resolution that “demands” the state return control of pandemic safety measures such as mask and vaccine requirements to local school districts, threatening possible legal action, and rejected adding back an explicit promise to follow the mandates in the meantime.
However, board members who backed the resolution said that section was removed only to send a stronger message and make a stronger case – and that they had no issues with Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline. He has made clear the district will indeed comply with Gov. Kate Brown’s latest rules, until and unless the board's challenge prevails in some form or fashion, in or out of court, or such changes arise otherwise.
The resolution’s long list of “whereas” clauses noted that the state expects schools to return to full-time, in-person classes this fall, while more recently requiring everyone to wear masks indoors for most activities at school, and that all school staff and visitors be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
The board also noted that a segment (the word “significant” was questioned) of the community opposes the new mandates, which it said “present significant operational challenges for the district,” including the loss of students and potential staff shortages if many quit, thus endangering the ability to operate full-time, in person as the state directed.
Earlier in the meeting, the board was presented a list that included new hires, as well as seven recent licensed employee (mostly teacher) resignations and 17 resignations by classified employees, from custodians to bus drivers.
School board Chairwoman Shawn Hartfield asked Cline if that was due to the vaccine mandate.
“There have been a few doing that,” the superintendent responded. He noted that district officials had asked those staff members to wait for the new Oregon Health Authority rules – received only late Wednesday – offering more details, including about potential medical or religious exceptions.
But he said there have been other reasons for recent staff departures as well, from being “tired” after the stress of recent years to “quite a few who have found something else to do. Quite a few realized the value of their homes, cashed out and are moving to other places.”
Unlike a contentious, in-person meeting earlier this month, the board met virtually on Zoom Wednesday evening, as the Bend-La Pine board did the previous night amid the surge in COVID-19 cases and new restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
School board member Liz Goodrich asked several questions about the resolution, first questioning the removal of a paragraph from an earlier draft that said “the district will comply with orders and regulations” from the state while pursuing other “appropriate actions,” The passed resolution said that is “including but not limited to legal action and the use of medical and religious exemptions.”
Goodrich said all the preface “whereas” clauses simple documented changes that have occurred “in response to the changing virus," a "road map" of how we got to this point.
She also asked why the resolution claims “a significant segment of the district community is opposed” to the new mandates.
“What do you consider significant? Or are we just talking about the loudest people?”
New school board member Michael Summers said it was “based on feedback,” and he would propose funding a survey “to get actual numbers.” He also acknowledged that the initial, “overwhelming” opposition is “balancing out now.”
But asked about the removed paragraph stating the district will comply with the state mandates, Summers explained it was done to send a stronger, clearer message to the state, “mainly because the regulations are there. We’re not changing regulations. … we don’t set state regulations. It’s about getting local control back. We’re not saying anything about going against the policies right now.”
Goodrich countered, “I think it shows lack of leadership by not saying we’re going to follow the law. It’s very vague and ambiguous, and puts Dr. Cline in a difficult position.”
But Summers claimed including that language “completely neuters the entire purpose of the resolution. ,,, This is not marching orders, it’s a formal protest.” As Goodrich pressed on, calling the language removal “dangerous and not helpful,” Summer said it was “not to make things intentionally difficult or muddy any waters.”
“Our intent is not to just roll over,” Summers said. “I’m really trying to do a balanced approach, be responsible. … I did not bring this forward to cause chaos, or anything of the sort.” Board members were told the district’s legal counsel recommended the paragraph be included, but said it was “not necessary.”
Goodrich bristled at the idea of going against the attorney's recommendation. “If we would put that last paragraph in there, I’d be on board with this,” she said, and colleague Jill Cummings agreed.
Board member Keri Lopez said she thought Cline “made it clear in the last meeting that this is what’s going to happen anyways.” Cline said that was correct, and that he will send an email to the community Thursday to clarify that the district will be following the mandates as the board pursues its efforts to challenge the state's control of those issues.
"I can see both sides," Lopez said.
Summers repeated that he knows Cline “has to follow the law, and we’re not asking him not to follow the law, by any means.”
Here's the email the school district sent to families Thursday morning:
Aug. 26, 2021
At last night’s school board meeting, our board voted to push for a return of local control over mask and vaccine mandates, as well as all other health and safety regulations in our district.
While the board will consider legal and other action to regain that local control, it made clear that in the meantime, the Redmond School District will continue to follow all mandates from the state.
That means that until this mandate is rescinded, the Redmond School District will require all staff and students to wear masks while inside school buildings. Currently, the state’s mask rule does not require students to wear masks while at outdoor recess, while eating or drinking, or when engaged in other activities like playing musical instruments and participating in athletics. Masks are also required on school buses. However, all visitors to events on campus must wear masks both indoors and outdoors.
We know some of you will be pleased with this news, while others will be upset. Please remember that teachers, staff and principals at your schools are not responsible for this mask mandate, and we ask that you treat them with respect and understanding.
Our goal is to keep our staff and students safe and in our classrooms full time, every day and we hope this measure will assist with that.
The governor has said the state will review the school mask rule each month to determine when it may no longer be a requirement.
If you or your child are unwilling to comply with this mask mandate, please look for a communication coming soon with more information about our online learning program, RSDFlex.
We look forward to seeing our students back on campus very soon!