Vale school superintendent comes out against state mask mandate

Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

JULY 30, 6:30 PM: This article was updated to include a statement from Alisha McBride and a quote from the Nyssa School District Facebook page.

VALE – Vale Superintendent Alisha McBride said Friday that she would “continue to advocate for the ability to make the decision regarding face coverings at the local level,” according to a post on the Vale School District Facebook.

McBride’s declaration comes a day after Gov. Kate Brown announced that she would ask the Oregon Department of Education to implement new rules to align with federal guidance recommending masks in school settings. The department quickly complied, stating in a press release that due to the fast spread of the Delta variant of Covid through unvaccinated populations, “requiring universal use of face coverings inside schools is necessary.”

On the day of Brown’s announcement, July 29, McBride did not return calls or emails to the Enterprise about the matter. Friday afternoon she posted her statement to Facebook. 

The full statement recaps the results of a district survey showing that 90% of respondents wanted face coverings to be “optional.” 

“On July 1, 2021, the board of directors voted unanimously to make face coverings optional in Vale School District schools,” McBride’s statement said.

The actual text of the survey, however, asked respondents if they preferred face coverings be “required” or “recommended,” not optional. Nine out of 10 respondents voted that the face coverings be “recommended” – a position adopted by the school board. 

The shift in phrasing by McBride from “recommended” to “optional” puts the Vale School District out of step with Oregon Department of Education language around masking. Even before the institution of the mask mandate, department guidance said that “face coverings remain strongly recommended.”

McBride said Friday that “I did not quote the language from the survey, but I used terms that I felt could be used interchangeably with the language that was in the survey and the language that was used by the board.”

“There was no intent to change the actions of our board,” she continued. 

The Washington Post reported Friday that an internal CDC report said the Delta variant of Covid is as transmissible as chicken pox, and may be equally as transmissible by vaccinated people as by unvaccinated people. 

McBride’s Facebook post referenced local control, not public health, as key to her stance on masking. 

“I truly believe that Vale School District families, staff, and community members should have the opportunity to determine whether or not to wear masks in K-12 facilities, based on their unique beliefs and circumstances,” she said.

“I recognize that many individuals in our community would like to join me in this effort to advocate for the ability to make decisions regarding face coverings at the local level,” the post continued. “In the coming days, as I learn more about this mandate, I will share ways that you can help advocate for local control.”

Nyssa School District Superintendent Darren Johnson also posted Friday about the need for local control around masking.

“My goal is to allow staff and families to make their own health decisions about masks, while also fully supporting anyone who wants to wear one for their own protection,” he wrote on the district’s Facebook. “Even though I am determined to retain local control and decision-making, we are required to follow the mask mandate until further notice.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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