The Redmond School Board has sent another letter to the Oregon Health Authority asking the body “in the strongest possible terms” to halt efforts to extend the state’s COVID mask and vaccine requirements in schools and return the decision-making to local agencies.
Health officials want to remove the current expiration date for the state’s mask mandate – Feb. 8th – and make the rule indefinite, not “permanent.”
The OHA could rescind the rule at any time, presumably at some point down the line when COVID cases are back under control.
The agency held a public hearing on Thursday and plans two more on Monday to discuss the mask requirements in schools and vaccination rules for teachers and staff.
The Redmond board members aren’t alone.
More than 350 people — ranging from stay-at-home parents, registered nurses, a speech-language pathologist, teachers, business owners and life-long residents, both in rural and urban areas — attended the virtual public hearing and vehemently opposed the rule, according to the Associated Press.
Board members say they have “grave concerns that adopting these rule changes would effectively create de facto discrimination.”
“To mandate masks as a prerequisite to attend school in Oregon openly discriminates against students and families who exercise their right to decline masks (by OHA definition a mask is a “medical grade mask”) and maintain control over what goes onto and into their and their children’s bodies,” the letter said.
The letter, sent to the OHA to be entered into the public record, was signed by four of the five Redmond School Board members: Shawn Hartfield, Michael Summers, Jill Cummings and Keri Lopez.
Board member Liz Goodrich did not sign the letter.
The Redmond School Board has been very vocal this year about its opposition to the mask rules and desire to be able to make COVID-related decisions on their own.
In August the board voted 3-2 to approve a resolution calling for local control on K-12 mask and teacher vaccination rules, saying it would seek all avenues, including legal action against the state.
In October the board voted to take the next step in that fight and hired Thenell Law Group, a Portland-based law firm that specializes in insurance-related cases.
But just a week later the board decided against moving forward with any legal action.
Instead, the board voted unanimously to draft a letter to the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education, looking for parameters and guidance on when to retain local control.
“My thought in pursuing legal action was not to create chaos or to be anti, but was to create options to our existing staff members who are on the fence, who had not filled out an exemption or acceptation,” board vice chairman Michael Summers said at the time.
The OHA’s current plan, the board said, “completely ignores the will expressed by the Redmond School Board and retains decision-making authority at the State level. This is the exact opposite of local control over pandemic related safety measures that the Redmond School Board expressed in its resolution 21:163 and in the OSBA Fall Listening Session.”
You can read the full letter below:Public Comment OAR 333-019-1025, 1015, 1030 RSD Board 1 12 22 FINAL DRAFT (1)