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Gov. Kate Brown Defends School Mask Mandate, Urges Districts To Cooperate

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Many school districts spoke about a loss of "local control" when Brown announced the indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools late last month.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wrote a letter to school superintendents and board members throughout the state Monday, standing by her decision to require face coverings in K-12 classrooms and asking for their cooperation.

When Brown announced late last month her mandate for indoor mask-wearing for K-12 students and staff, multiple school district leaders across the state spoke about a loss of “local control.”

Brown wrote in her letter Monday that many districts have proactively enacted mask requirements, and she thanked them for “leading by example.”

“Unfortunately, I am also aware that some leaders in the education community — including school board members in public meetings and administrators in written communications to parents — have expressed a willingness to defy, ignore and undermine school mask requirements,” Brown wrote.

Brown said that some school boards in the state have passed or are considering resolutions against a mask mandate. She also said at least one district leader has sent letters to parents, urging them to request accommodations for their children under the Americans with Disabilities Act to circumvent mask requirements.

“Many of you have led or represented your school districts for years — long enough to know that districts must follow state law. There is no ambiguity in Oregon’s mask requirements or the legal authority of Oregon OSHA to enforce those requirements,” Brown said. “I am asking for your partnership once again, so that we can set an example for our students of how to set aside differences and work towards a common goal.”

The Oregon School Board Association reacted Tuesday morning to Brown’s letter.

“OSBA advocates strongly for local control by school districts,” OSBA Executive Director Jim Green said in a statement. But, OSBA acknowledged that “districts and individuals could face consequences if they ignore the mask mandate.”

Green added: “Plain and simple — they are required to comply with the law, which in this case is the mandate from the governor. They can disagree with it, but they must enforce it.”

In her letter, Brown stated that the “Delta variant has changed everything,” and some school leaders agree.

“I think prior to the arrival of the delta variant, it would have been a decision that could be made locally,” Carson Benner, chair of the McMinnville School Board, said via OSBA. “When you are dealing with a pandemic, local decisions affect a broader community, and we don’t have the science or the data to make such an important decision locally. ... We need a statewide solution, not a school-by-school solution.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.