SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown responded on Tuesday to murmurs from some parents and school officials around the state threatening to avoid mask requirements, calling on Oregon's educational community to heed the mandate and work to ensure that students can attend school full-time and in-person this year.
“Throughout this pandemic, my north star for decisions about our schools has been to do what is best for our students. 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,” said Governor Brown. “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.”
Brown's office said that most Oregon districts have been moving forward with the state's health and safety plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 during the upcoming school district, but they cited "troubling statements and actions" from some local school leaders indicating that they might ignore the state requirements.
According to Brown's office, several school boards have passed or are considering resolutions opposing Oregon's K-12 indoor mask rule. In one school district, a superintendent reportedly encouraged parents to "make false claims on behalf of their children by requesting mask exemptions under the Americans with Disabilities Act."
In a letter addressed to Oregon superintendents and school board members, Governor Brown called on districts to reject taking actions that defy state and federal laws in order to protect students' health and safety.
“Because that’s the thing about masks: they don’t just protect you, they protect everyone around you," Brown said. "Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. By wearing masks, we are teaching our children that they can protect each other in the classroom. That we can all work together to keep each other safe. When I visited classrooms this spring, I saw children who were overjoyed to be with their friends and teachers again. For them, safety protocols were not a burden but a benefit, giving them a reprieve from virtual classrooms and isolation from their peers."
Brown's office indicated that the mask requirement can be enforced by Oregon OSHA under state law, as with previous COVID-19 workplace countermeasures during the pandemic. Monday's statement also implied that following current restrictions would be necessary to keep kids in the classroom full-time with "minimal disruptions."
“I have heard much about personal freedom when it comes to masks in school board meetings and on social media. I have not heard as much said about personal responsibility," Brown continued. "As leaders, we have a great responsibility to our students and their futures. One of the sacred, fundamental responsibilities of a school district and its leaders is to keep the children in their care safe. It is up to us to make clear-eyed decisions based on science and fact. Flouting mask requirements will put everything we have worked towards in the last year at risk. Without the universal wearing of masks in our schools, the Delta variant will spread.”