The public comment portion of the scheduled Klamath County School Board meeting was taken outside Thursday to allow members of a protest of over 100 people opposed to mask and vaccine mandates to speak before the board.
Members of the protest refused to wear masks to the indoor public meeting, so the board opted to move part of the meeting to the front parking lot of the district’s central office on Greensprings Drive. Board chairman John Rademacher told the crowd that the district would risk fines if they were allowed in.
The protest came hours after Gov. Kate Brown announced that every teacher in the state would need to vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall. The governor made the announcement as the spread of the highly contagious delta variant pushed the state’s hospitals to the brink.
Additionally, the board unanimously passed a resolution that urged the governor to return local control of health measures to local health authorities. The resolution requests that the district take health-related directives from Klamath County Public Health, not state authorities.
Currently, when school starts Sept. 7 all Oregon students and staff will have to wear masks indoors on school grounds. All staff will have to be vaccinated as well.
Many protesters displayed matching signs which stated that they opposed the governor’s vaccine and mask mandates.
As per any regular public comment period, some individuals present were allowed three minutes to speak their piece. Some handed large binders and folders full of documents to board members before speaking.
Ashley Crawford told the board and crowd that she was a mother of three from Malin, and said she would consider pulling her children out of district schools if the district didn’t oppose the governor’s mandate. Crawford added that children were far less at risk for serious COVID-related complications compared to other groups.
“I simply will not allow my children marked by the tyranny that is mask mandates. My children’s health is my responsibility, not the governor or the Oregon Department of Education,” Crawford said.
Others claimed that mandates were illegal and others made false or unverifiable claims about the efficacy of masks or that the vaccine was killing thousands. A handful present wore t-shirts bearing the logo of People’s Rights Oregon.
At the conclusion of the public comment period, the board passed the local control resolution in the parking lot before continuing the rest of the meeting in the usual board’s chambers.
“When blanket state mandates do not fit our communities’ medical and educational circumstances, it severely erodes the public’s trust in both their local public health and education leaders,” read a portion of a letter by Superintendent Glen Szymoniak that will head to the governor after the resolution’s passage.
“Managing COVID-19 at the local level would go a long way in matching our mitigation strategies to our specific school situations. It would also allow us to begin repairing relationships and trust with our families by taking cultural sensitivities into account,” the letter continued.
After the board passed the resolution, Szymoniak addressed the crowd and asked who would be in favor of having masks optional in schools and members of the crowd raised their hands. Szymoniak then asked who would support the local public health department and they directed the district to wear masks.
“They go against the science we won’t support them either,” one man replied.
“And if they violate our rights we won’t support,” one woman said.