Under the threats of heavy fines from the state and potentially contentious contract bargaining with two unions, the Redmond School Board has backed off a resolution making masks optional beginning Wednesday.
Instead, during a special school board meeting Monday morning, the board redrafted the resolution to require masks until the state mandate is lifted or March 19th, whichever is sooner.
“If they say Friday masks are options, I want that done,” Board Chairwoman Shawn Hartfield said. “If there’s a sooner date, I want us to get to that date.”
Just hours after the school board meeting, Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon would now end its mask mandate on March 12th, joining Washington and California.
Board Vice-Chairman Michael Summers framed the situation as “a win” for the district and “the resolution states we are taking local control back” – while still requiring students and staff to wear masks until the state says it’s OK to take them off.
“The only reason I’m willing to extend this date is because the state is attempting to be reasonable and I want to do the same,” he said.
Earlier this month the school board voted to pass a resolution making masks optional for students and staff weeks ahead the state, which, at the time, had set an expiration date of March 31st.
The decision was met with resistance from the teachers union and classified staff unions, who almost immediately asked for a return to the bargaining table to talk about the change in working conditions.
For teachers, the resolution put them in danger of losing their state teaching license.
District administrators said the resolution was asking them to break the law.
During Monday’s meeting, Hartfield said the district had since received a letter from the OHA saying it will be fined $500 per day per school ($6,500) beginning on the 2nd if the resolution moved forward.
Superintendent Charan Cline added that the Oregon Department of Education has also told the district that any federal money spent after the 2nd would not be reimbursed.
“I would suggest we reevaluate this,” Hartfield said. “I don’t want the district to be fined.”
She said she wanted assurances from the unions that they wouldn’t push back against the board or district on the mask rules after the state ends the requirement.
Cline said he believed the unions were on board with that.
“They are not looking to make things harder than they are,” Cline said.
District spokeswoman Sheila Miller said the district and the unions will still move forward with bargaining, “but we expect that bargaining will be much easier now that we’re not asking them to break the law by not enforcing a mask mandate.”