While other school districts have backed down from the protest against the statewide mask mandate, one school board isn’t done fighting just yet.
For most of the Redmond School Board, it’s worth the risk.
“As a public entity, we were voted in by our community,” said Board Chairwoman Shawn Hartfield. “And we need to have the control back to move forward with what’s best for our community and what our community wants.”
The board voted 4-1 at Wednesday’s meeting to consider a resolution, which would ask Gov. Kate Brown to return power to the local level, as well as allowing staff and students to forego masks.
Board member Liz Goodrich, who held the single dissenting vote, cited the consequences in store if they defy the statewide mandate.
“And we need to have the control back to move forward with what’s best for our community and what our community wants.”
– Redmond School Board Chairwoman Shawn Hartfield
“You know, financial penalties to the district that would no longer be covered by insurance,” she said. “Loss of liability, we all become personally liable. That’s all on the table. To me, it’s reckless and it’s dangerous.”
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, according to Aaron Corvin, the Oregon-OSHA public information officer.
The daily “failure to abate” penalties are actually stiffer than what the Oregon Department of Education communicated with school districts earlier this week. The ODE has since updated that message.
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 said. “We need to be taking this seriously.”
Late Wednesday night, Superintendent Charan Cline sent an email to families informing them the district would comply with the mask mandate for summer school effective immediately.
“The consequences our district will face if we do not comply with the mask mandate are severe,” he wrote. “Ultimately the district and the board will comply with the mask mandate for summer school.”
Cline reiterated the board would discuss the mandate at its next meeting later this month.
“Our district will continue to advocate for local control regarding masks and other COVID-19 prevention measures,” he wrote.
The school board’s discussion comes as COVID cases across the state skyrocket.
After reporting more than 1,200 new cases a day over the last week, the Oregon Health Authority reported a record 2,387 cases on Thursday.
Central Oregon cases are up for the sixth straight week with Deschutes County reporting 443 cases so far this week alone.
Though she isn’t comfortable with aspects of the mandate, Goodrich agrees with state health officials who say masks are the way forward.
“Without vaccines and masks in place, I think it’s reasonable to expect a significant increase in students and staff having to quarantine, perhaps eventually leading us back to completely virtual school, which nobody wants,” Goodrich said.
To that end, ODE Director Colt Gill told school superintendents earlier this week to be prepared for a return to online school if COVID cases continued on their current trajectory.
Hartfield is working with board member Michael Summers to draft the resolution, which will be presented at the next board meeting on August 25.
“To me, it’s reckless and it’s dangerous.”
– Redmond School Board member Liz Goodrich
“We’re very upset that local control has been taken away from us again when we were just given control back,” she said. “The flip-flopping is a real problem, and shows that our leadership in this state absolutely does not trust us as public officials, which is very bothersome.”
Along with the potential financial penalties, teachers could lose their licenses by defying the statewide mask orders. Hartfield herself is in the line of fire.
“I have a real problem with the fact that they’re threatening our teachers and our administrators,” she said. “I hold a license, a TSPC license also, so that threat goes to me directly.”
The reactions from the crowd at Wednesday’s board meeting were clearly in favor of the resolution, and the fight against mandates from Salem.
Between now and the next board meeting, Hartfield and Summers will meet to discuss the exact wording for the resolution and will consult with the district’s attorney.