School board members around Oregon get warning: Obey the law

VALE – The Oregon School Boards Association on Friday warned school board members across the state that any effort to defy state Covid mandates is “unacceptable.”

The stern letter to 1,400 school board members and superintendents follows actions in recent weeks by school board considering or acting against mask and vaccination mandates. The Adrian School Board drew national attention for firing its superintendent recently over the mandates.

“At a time when Oregon’s school boards have never been more tested, we are also lamentably seeing a remarkable number of board members doing their very best to ignore the law or openly defy it. Such behavior is simply unacceptable,” said the letter from Jim Green, the organization’s executive director; Maureen Wolf, association president who serves on a Portland regional education district; and Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, president of the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.

In an interview with the Enterprise, Green clarified that the laws the letter references as being ignored and defied are the governor’s mandates for mask use in schools and Covid vaccination for all school staff and volunteers. 

“Whether you support it or not, the mask mandate and the vaccine mandate (are) the law, and the goal behind it is to have as many kids in in-person instruction as possible,” Green said. “We need to focus on student issues, not petty politics and not adult issues.”

The letter emphasizes the role of school board members as leaders in their communities. 

“We set examples for young people. We are sworn to follow the law – whether we like that law or not,” the letter said. “Whether the issue involves court-sanctioned health safeguards during a deadly pandemic or constitutionally protected forms of speech, our oaths bind us. We must do better, even in the face of divided and sometimes hostile communities.”

Green said that young people need to see adults recognize that we live in a “society of laws.”

“If your elected leaders aren’t going to follow the laws, the rest of society and in particular kids that are looking up to you are going to say, ‘Why do I need to follow the law?’” Green said.

The Oregon School Boards Association has offered webinars, work shops and training for members featuring officials such as Colt Gill, Oregon Department of Education director, and Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, to help them comply with the mandates. 

Green said that while schools had been granted limited liability protections under state law, in order to receive those protections, schools have to prove they are following the law.

“I would hope that school board members would hold themselves to a very high standard in this area and take heed of the message that was sent to them today,” said Green. 

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

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