A letter signed by 12 school district superintendents in Douglas County urged parents to follow the vaccine and mask safety measures ordered by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and set aside personal beliefs on the issue for the good of students.
“We know that having students back in the classroom benefits families, students and staff,” the letter said. “In order to safely open our schools this fall and keep them open, we need your help. Please follow the indoor school mask mandate if your child will be returning to the classroom.”
The letter was dated Friday and signed by Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon, Don Wonsley (Camas Valley), Dave Gianotti (Riddle), Steve Woods (Days Creek), Andy Boe (Elkton), Kate McLaughlin (South Umpqua), David Hanson (Glendale), Brian Berry (Yoncalla), Mike Narkiewicz (Glide), Jody Cyr (North Douglas), Patti Lovemark (Oakland) and Michael Lasher, superintendent of the Douglas Education Service District.
It does not include the names of Sutherlin School Superintendent Terry Prestianni and Winston-Dillard School superintendent Kevin Miller, both who have opposed the executive order announced by Gov. Brown on Thursday, July 29. The rule, instituted after a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases across Oregon, mandates that all students in grades K-12 are required to wear masks indoors this fall, regardless of vaccination status. On Thursday, Aug. 19, Gov. Brown announced that Oregon was expanding its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools.
The vaccine and mask mandates announced by Gov. Brown sparked intense division from parents and school officials, not only in Douglas County but throughout Oregon. The Winston-Dillard School District passed a resolution of support during its Wednesday, Aug. 11, meeting, for residents who believe Oregon’s school mask mandate is over-reaching and that decision should be made at a local level.
The joint letter recognizes the division caused by state-ordered health measures but says following the requirements is necessary for in-person learning to take place and minimize disruption for students and families.
“We know that having students back in the classroom benefits families, students and staff. In order to safely open our schools this fall and keep them open, we need your help. Please follow the indoor school mask mandate if your child will be returning to the classroom,” the letter said.
The letter includes a link for people wishing to advocate change in the current requirements and leave feedback directly for Gov. Brown.
Plans to welcome back students to in-person learning will require a community wide effort, the letter said.
“Our top priority remains the health and safety of our students, staff members and community as we plan to welcome children to full-time in-person learning this fall. This will require community-wide efforts due to the sharp increases in Covid cases in our area that have once again caused disruption and have now overburdened our hospitals,” the letter said.
Prestianni and Miller have condemned the mandates, saying that local school districts should decide for themselves. In a Facebook post on Thursday, Aug. 19, Miller reaffirmed the district’s stance that the statewide mandates will have a significant negative impact at the local level. With “no viable options at this point,” Miller said the district will begin working with employee unions to implement the vaccine mandate for teachers and staff and encourage parents to prepare their students for wearing masks at school.