PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown released an open letter to school leaders across Oregon on Tuesday in response to push back from some school boards over the reinstated statewide mask mandate that went into effect on Aug. 13.
Since Brown announced the mask mandate, some school leaders have expressed frustration over what they describe as a loss of local control when it comes to making decisions.
Under the mandate, all students, staff, visitors and volunteers will be required to wear a face mask in indoor school settings regardless of vaccination status this fall.
In her letter addressed to superintendents and school board members, Brown pointed to record-breaking COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant and hospitalizations as factors for her decision to reinstate the mask mandate. Brown said she ordered indoor mask requirements for K-12 schools to keep kids safe, with minimal disruptions to the school year caused by COVID-19.
"Throughout this pandemic, my north star for decisions about our schools has been to do what is best for our students," wrote Brown. "We know that students’ mental, physical, behavioral, social, and emotional health is best served when they can be in schools for full-time, in-person instruction. The delta variant puts this goal at risk. It puts our children’s health and lives at risk. But, by again taking simple and effective precautions, we can still return our children to classrooms full-time this fall."
Kids under the age of 12 are not currently eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) told KGW that in July, 9.4% of new COVID-19 cases reported in Oregon involved kids younger than 12.
Brown said she was aware of one district leader who sent a letter to parents urging them to request an accommodation for their child under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA) to avoid mask requirements.
"I find it deeply appalling that any education leader––who is supposed to be setting an example for our students––would send a communication so callous and offensive to Oregon parents and children with disabilities," said Brown. "ADA accommodations are in place for students who truly need them."
In Clackamas County, leaders with Colton School District 53 are among those who have expressed their frustration over the mask mandate. Interim superintendent Dave Kline wrote a letter to the governor on Aug. 13. He argued the mask mandate will have a negative impact on enrollment, engagement and attendance.
"We believe that local decision making is in the best interest of students, staff, and our community if we want our students and school districts to succeed," said Kline.
School board members for the Molalla River School District have also said they want more local control. In a letter to students and staff, superintendent Tony Mann said he and the school board would draft a resolution that "communicates our community's strong position regarding returning local control of decisions back to the local school district."
In Marion County, Cascade School District Superintendent Darin Drill has also called for more local control.
"This current guidance is not helpful for local school districts to run effectively and teach kids, the very core thing that we do," said Drill in a message to families.
Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OROSHA) will enforce face mask requirements and investigate any complaints. Schools and teachers that do not comply could face fines and penalties including a letter of reprimand or suspension.
Read Brown's full letter below: