Masks remain at Alsea despite community concerns over loss of funding | Local

An attempt to overturn a January resolution that gave the school board the power to decide whether students and staff should wear masks failed Thursday night Feb. 10 after a single board member could not get would only one supporting vote.

More than two hours into the school board meeting, Risteen Follett presented the motion, which was held in the gymnasium of Alsea Charter School and filled with impassioned public comments from community members for and against the resolution of January 13, which essentially made the wearing of the mask optional.

Public health policies are promulgated by the Oregon Health Authority and supported by the state Department of Education in school settings. Oregon law does not allow local laws to override state public health rules.

“Our role here is to make things better for the kids,” Follett said, speaking to Superintendent Marc Thielman and other board members. “If I look at it objectively, I think we’re not serving them to the best of their abilities.”

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While most people in the room, including Follett, agreed they were happy to be rid of the masks, there was criticism from some corners about how the decision was made and the financial repercussions. that the district now faces because of this.

The state informed Thielman and school board chairman Ron Koetz in a January 23 letter that federal funds intended to help school districts during the pandemic would be suspended and not released until the district returned to compliance with the state domestic mask mandate.

For the Alsea School District, this represents more than $270,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, officially known as the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund.

He and the board “anticipated this before moving forward with implementation,” Thielman said, contradicting Follett, who said the board did not address frozen funds in the minutes of the meeting. the January 13 meeting.

Follett added that the withholding of funds worries staff, which in turn affects students. The Alsea Education Association sent several emails to the board opposing the resolution.

Additionally, the district could face nearly $136,000 in fines from Oregon Occupational Safety and Health for willfully breaking the law.

Follett and several parents in the district expressed their concerns at the meeting about these financial threats. Thielman responded that the district will automatically be back in compliance with the law once general statewide face-covering requirements are lifted on March 31.

Governor Kate Brown announced this week that mask mandates will be lifted no later than March 31, as modeling predicts the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients will fall below 400 statewide.

“But why don’t we do it today?” Follett insisted. “It feels like playing a game.”

Thielman said he was “ready to roll the dice” for the Department of Education to release the funds on April 1 that the district would use for services like summer school or whatever they think would help students catch up after the academic decline associated with the pandemic.

But simply waiting for the state to lift its mask mandate isn’t the only step the district needs to take to become eligible for the funds again. Thielman and Koetz must also sign new assurances that the district will remain in compliance with all state laws and regulations, according to a Feb. 10 letter ODE sent to the couple.

In an interview with Mid-Valley Media, Thielman — who is also running for governor of Oregon in the May primary — said he plans to sign the insurance but will put his district back under ” local control” next time, if necessary.

“I don’t mind singing the assurance, but I have to be able to trust that they will follow through on this,” he said. “If they do more bad politics, we will decide on the basis of ethics or morality to go in another direction, then we will cancel that.”

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be reached at 541-812-6076 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_.

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