The Redmond School Board narrowly approved a resolution Wednesday night calling for local control on K-12 mask and teacher vaccination rules, saying it would seek all avenues, including legal action against the state.
All Oregon K-12 students are required to wear masks indoors this fall and all Oregon teachers, administrators and school volunteers must be vaccinated by Oct. 18th.
The resolution, drafted by board member Michael Summers and Chairwoman Shawn Hartfield, said the new mandates are opposed by a “significant” segment of the district and “present significant operational challenges for the district, including the potential loss of students and staff who oppose the mandates.”
According to the resolution, which passed 3-2, the district fears the mask and vaccination requirements will create staff shortages that could impact its ability to offer full-time, in-person instruction.
“This resolution is demanding local control back to make these kinds of decisions,” Summers said.
But it’s still more likely than not students and staff will be masked up in class this fall and all school staff will have to be vaccinated by next month or risk losing their jobs.
“We also need to have leadership in our schools and be very clear we are going to follow the mandates while we pursue our other options,” board member Jill Cummings said.
Hartfield said nothing will change regarding masks – which are currently required and being worn by summer school students.
“(Superintendent Charan Cline) has to follow the law and we’re not asking him to go against the law by any means,” she said.
“Redmond implemented required masks and many other protocols with great success last year. Let them do it again.”
– ODE Director Colt Gill
Redmond had discussed for weeks the possibility and potential impacts of defying the mandates, saying the district should be able to make its own decision on the matter based on the current COVID situation.
That situation is dire.
Wednesday night’s vote comes as COVID cases and hospitalizations skyrocket locally due to the highly contagious delta variant.
Deschutes County reported more than 925 COVID cases last week – nearly double the previous record high. Redmond has accounted for about 26% of the county’s 12,926 total COVID cases.
Meanwhile, St. Charles on Wednesday reported a record 72 COVID patients with 14 on ventilators.
National Guard soldiers have been called in to help the hospital deal with the latest surge; additional health care professionals are on their way after Gov. Brown earlier in the day Wednesday signed a deal with staffing providers.
Currently, 1 in 66 Deschutes County residents has COVID-19.
Board member Liz Goodrich called the resolution a mistake.
“I think what this does is show a lack of leadership on the board’s part by saying ‘we’re not gonna follow the law,” she said.
Earlier this month at a school board meeting that saw several people speak in opposition to the mask mandate, the panel voted 4-1 to draft the resolution.
Schools and school districts that demonstrate a “plain indifference to worker safety” face fines of up to $126,749 with additional, daily fines of up to $12,675 for continued non-compliance of the mask mandate, according to Aaron Corvin, the Oregon-OSHA public information officer.
Before any penalties are handed down, Oregon-OSHA would need to respond to a complaint and open an on-site inspection.
“Clearly, we expect to enforce,” Corvin told Central Oregon Daily News last week. “We need to be taking this seriously.”
Teachers in districts that defy the order also face losing their licenses.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board demands the return of local control over pandemic-related safety measures to the District, and will pursue all appropriate actions to that end, including but not limited to legal action and the use of medical and religious exemptions. – Redmond School Board Resolution
Since the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority handed down their mask rules for schools, Gov. Kate Brown issued a new mandate requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces.
And last week she announced all teachers, administrators and even school volunteers must be vaccinated by Oct. 18th.
Redmond currently requires masks to be worn in summer school after Superintendent Charan Cline told parents “the consequences our district will face if we do not comply with the mask mandate are severe.”
Wednesday afternoon, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill issued a statement about the Redmond School Board discussion to Central Oregon Daily News.
It reads, in part:
“We have a shared priority to reliably return students to full-time, in-person school this year.
Masks are proven to slow the spread of COVID-19. I say this knowing that masks aren’t the argument. Personal freedom is the argument.
But, with personal freedom comes responsibility, not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors – whether they be the student next to us in class, the bus driver, or the teacher in the classroom.
We can weigh and take risks with our personal lives, but I think we agree that we should not impose that risk on the lives of others around us.
Last school year, there were over 120 statewide COVID-19 health and safety protocols required for schools to operate. Today, there are five – just five. Let’s not argue over those five when the vast majority of health and safety protocols in the RSSL Resiliency Framework are advisory, and local schools and districts determine what is best for their community.
Masks can help keep our kids in school, keep them and their families safe, and preserve our hospitals for our neighbors in need.
As the Delta variant moves through Oregon, layered mitigation protocols including vaccinations and face coverings are as important as ever. Our schools are well-practiced with these protocols.
Redmond implemented required masks and many other protocols with great success last year. Let them do it again.”