Adrian High School (The Enterprise/FILE).

ADRIAN – Mark Redmond, superintendent of the Malheur Education Service District, has been named interim superintendent of the Adrian School District, which last week fired superintendent Kevin Purnell after he attempted to implement Gov. Kate Brown’s mask mandate.

The Adrian School Board made the decision Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Board Chair Eddie Kinkade sent out a note to parents and the community that was a remarkable departure from the board’s previously stated stance on masking. At the meeting, he read a slightly revised version of the statement, signed by all the board members, and it was sent to the community early Thursday morning.

Redmond has been superintendent of the service district for six years. Before that, he spent four years there as director of curriculum and instruction, and prior to that, he was a science teacher in Vale for 14 years.

“I'm glad to help the Adrian School District in the interim while they work towards the hiring of a more permanent candidate. The two goals going forward will be keeping students in school for in-person instruction for the remainder of the year and to help the community come back together,” said Redmond. 

Redmond, a state employee, has supported the state’s mask mandate for schools. 

“We need to follow the mask mandate, and the (Oregon Department of Education) guidance, with the goal of keeping students in in-person instruction for the entire year,” he said. 

Despite their agreement that he will act as interim superintendent in Adrian, Redmond has not currently entered into a contract with the school board. 

“The (Education Service District) by statute is required to offer technology services, curriculum and school improvement services, special education services, and administrative services to the component districts within the region,” Redmond said. “These services vary by school district, vary from year to year, and even change within the year depending on circumstances. The (Education Service District) providing support in the form of an interim superintendent to Adrian is an example of one of those mid-year adjustments that falls under administrative services.”  

It is currently unclear what will become of the board’s desire to sue the state over its mandate that all teachers, school staff and volunteers be vaccinated against Covid. 

Before the Wednesday board meeting, Board Chair Eddie Kinkade sent out a note to community members that was a remarkable departure from the board’s previously stated stance on masking. He later read a slightly revised version of the statement, signed by all the board members, during the meeting, and had it sent to community members early Thursday morning.

The statement said the board and the school district committed to following the governor’s mandate. 

“While many community members are not in agreement with that order, it is the law of the land,” read the letter. “Our goal from the pandemic’s beginning has been to find safe ways to get children in the classroom, where they thrive, and we understand that compliance with the order is a necessary part of keeping our schools open.”

Board members – Kinkade, vice-chair Quinten Shenk, Ryan Martin, Eric White, and Bobby Davis – said that they were willing to stake out this position despite personally opposing masking.

“We care deeply about our children and their well-being,” the letter said. “Although in our view Oregon’s pandemic steps have been consistently wrong, we believe that complying with the mask order is in the best interest of our students.”

Just last week, in statements to the Oregon School Boards Association, Kinkade had cited the board’s differences with Purnell on masking as “the final straw” in their decision to fire him. He said that Purnell’s failure to write a letter stating that the school would take no punitive action against students who didn’t wear masks had angered the board. 

The state Education Department’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidelines initially banned school employees from punishing students who didn’t wear masks, but the language was later clarified to say that “schools cannot serve a student in-person if they or their family choose not to wear a face covering. Schools may offer a remote or online school option for the student.” 

Colt Gill, Education Department director, said that his agency had not had direct contact in recent days with the Adrian School Board, but that they stood ready to help Adrian comply with the governor’s mandates.

Gill said in a statement to the Enterprise that the district had to comply with state laws and federal guidelines around masking to remain eligible for emergency federal funding related to the pandemic. 

The school district is being investigated by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration after the agency received two complaints that the district is not enforcing the mask mandate. 

The board’s statement and actions during the Wednesday meeting were well-received by some Adrian residents. 

J.D. Bowns, who has two children in the elementary/middle school, said that he thought the meeting would help the community move forward.

“I left the meeting feeling like the road is now open for a lot better communications and just some good feelings between the community and the board, even though not everyone will agree with the decision they made,” Bowns said. “I think the board showed that they understood the consequences of the decision and how much some people didn’t agree.”

Bowns said that he had withheld judgment on the firing of Purnell based on a lack of information. The discussion around Purnell’s firing took place mostly in executive, or closed, session.

“I give the benefit of the doubt to my board,” Bowns said. “I believe that they thought they were doing what was best for students, and I respect the fact that they had to work around information that was confidential.”

CORRECTION: The chair of the Adrian School Board is Eddie Kinkade. Previous stories misspelled his last name. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.  

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

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