BLS board addresses update on mask mandate; protesters rally outside

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A group of 30 people gathered in front of the Bend-La Pine Schools administration building Tuesday night during a board meeting to rally against the state’s mask mandate.

“It’s doing more mental damage than good and it just needs to be over, there is no need to wait,” said BLS parent Shea Belleque.

This week state officials announced plans to lift the indoor mask mandate by at least March 31st, but schools do not have the authority to lift the mask mandate just yet.

They’re bound by Oregon Department of Education guidelines and those guidelines have not changed.

“I think that everyone is aware that the schools individually as well as the school board doesn’t have any authority to do anything about this,” Belleque said. “They will be fined, they have consequences, that have jobs on the line. Every parent here understands that. The point is not to protest the school board, it’s just to make noise and be publicly heard.”

Inside the district building, Superintendent Steven Cook reiterated the district will drop the mask requirement come that March 31st date that the state has set.

“It would move masking from a required status on March 31st to a recommended status,” said Cook. “We will hold recommending status at this point. We do not anticipate moving from that language at all.”

The board is concerned about the number of students who might miss school due to quarantine guidelines, after that March 31st date.

“We were using a three-foot distance in the case for universal masking for much of the contract tracing processes,” said Cook. “This is going back to a six-foot distance for that, so there are going to be folks who are subject to quarantining that haven’t had to consider quarantining now for some time because of that.”

Vaccinated students do not have to quarantine if they are possibly exposed, as long as the student is not considered a quarantine risk.

“This is moving from a pandemic for all of us to a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Cook.

The board is meeting again on March 8th, hoping to receive guidance from local health officials.

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