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Redmond School Board huddles with lawyer, won’t challenge mask/vaccine mandates

(Update: Adding video, comments; three school bus routes being 'paused' due to driver shortage)

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With just days to go before the state's Monday deadline for all school staff and visitors to be fully vaccinated (or gain exemptions), the Redmond School Board met privately and publicly with newly hired outside legal counsel Wednesday night, then decided not to file a court challenge to COVID-19 mandates.

The special meeting, including an executive session, came a week after the board on a 4-1 vote hired Dan Thenell of the Portland-based Thenell Law Group to look at possible legal actions after adoption a resolution to call for regaining local control when it comes to state mask and vaccination mandates.

Back in August, the school board passed a resolution on a 3-2 vote that “demands” the state return control of pandemic safety measures, such as mask and vaccine requirements, to local school districts, also threatening possible legal action, and rejected adding back an explicit promise to follow the mandates in the meantime. (Though Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline said the district would do just that, as it has.)

The resolution’s long list of “whereas” clauses noted that the state directed schools to return to full-time, in-person classes this fall, and required everyone to wear masks indoors for most activities at school.

Board Chair Shawn Hartfield said Wednesday evening she also plans to send a letter to the Oregon Health Authority requesting updated COVID metrics and data for a 30-day review on when local control might return.

"We're kind of in a stuck place," Hartfield said. "I do wonder if we as a board could send OHA a letter requesting when are we going to have these 30 day reviews they promised."

Hartfield says she wants better communication when it comes to the possibility of getting back local control.

"When are we going to get metrics back so that we can understand when local control will be given back to school districts?" Hartfield said.

Fellow board members unanimously supported her in that move.

Other board members like Liz Goodrich acknowledged the efforts of the district to persevere through such a challenging time.

"I want to acknowledge what a difficult position our staff out in the buildings and our staff at the district office has been put in because of this chaos that we've been living through," Goodrich said.

Goodrich says with far fewer staff members without vaccinations or exceptions -- Superintendent Charan Cline told the board the number is likely to be down to the single digits by Monday -- she's hopeful they can get back to what's important and focus on educating the youth across the district.

"I hope that (with) tonight's decision to follow Dan's recommendation, which I think is a good one, that we can put some of this behind us and move forward to getting back to the work of educating our kids and supporting our staff," Hartfield said.

Board member Michael Summers also says his hope for looking into legal action was to open doors of opportunity for staff members who were on the fence about mandates.

The board members added that they do not want to leave any employees stranded moving forward, and hope they can be as close as possible to full capacity.

According to the school district's Public Information Officer, Sheila Miller, Redmond schools will maintain the necessary protocols.

"Someone who receives an exception would be, by definition, not vaccinated," Miller said. "They will be required to wear a mask, just as all people are required to wear masks in our buildings."

Miller says despite the religious or medical exceptions, the district will not be making accommodations for staff members or visitors.

"We are not making accommodations for people," Miller said. "All of our employees must either be vaccinated or be granted an exception (medical or religious)."

Despite a better staff picture, Cline told families in an update Wednesday that they are "struggling to locate substitute teachers" and that the mandate deadline may result in "some interruptions in our service to students." He said details would be coming soon for contingency plans, if changes are needed.

One of those impacts will be felt next Tuesday, when a bus driver shortage is prompting Redmond schools to "pause" three school bus routes "for the foreseeable future." Parents will be reimbursed $10 a day to help with the cost of alternate transportation.

Article Topic Follows: Redmond
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Alec Nolan

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

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Barney Lerten

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