Gov. Brown tells school leaders not to “jeopardize” in-person classes by ignoring mask rule

Gov. Kate Brown visits a kindergarten class taught by Janeen Weigel on the first day back of in-person learning at Lincoln Elementary School in Woodburn, Ore. on Thursday, April 1, 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem schools intend to follow Gov. Kate Brown’s directive requiring masks at school in the fall – but not every district has been eager to fall in line.

Brown on Tuesday sent an open letter to superintendents and school board leaders across Oregon saying those who seek to ignore or “undermine” mask requirements are jeopardizing the safe return of in-person schooling.

“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. Some school boards have passed or are considering formal resolutions to that effect,” Brown wrote.

The Marion County Board of Commissioners are among the local elected officials who have pushed for local control on masking rules. The board on Aug. 11 passed a resolution urging the governor to leave school masking decisions to local school boards, and saying the county won’t spend resources enforcing the masking mandate. The resolution was put forward by commissioner Danielle Bethell, who is also a member of the Salem-Keizer School Board.

Also on Aug. 11, Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman issued a letter to parents saying those who did not want their children wearing a mask at school could request accommodations under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Thielman wrote, “I see the Section 504 option as a lawful and compliant means for accommodating parents, and students who have deeply held concerns about the potential negative impacts of mask wearing at school.”

Brown appeared to reference that statement in her letter Tuesday.

I am aware of one district leader who has sent a letter to parents urging them to request an accommodation for their child under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to avoid mask requirements,” she wrote. “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. ADA accommodations are in place for students who truly need them. Instructing students to lie about their disability status puts them and their peers at risk––especially those students with disabilities who are unable to wear masks themselves.”

-Rachel Alexander