News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Mask refusal disrupts school board meeting

The regular monthly meeting of the Sisters School Board held Wednesday, September 8 at the school district office never got off the ground, as a group of nine or 10 attendees refused to comply with the statewide indoor mask mandate.

Before the official start of the meeting, Board Chair Don Hedrick addressed the audience of approximately 30 people, including staff and administrators, saying that in order to stay in the room masks were required.

“If you don’t wear a mask, you must leave,” he said.

A cluster of four women standing near the door — Kristy Cooper, Roni Moore, Amy Larrabee, and Karen Alexander — none of whom were wearing a mask, took issue with Hedrick’s statement.

“Oregon law states that we have a right to our own health decisions,” said Cooper, a grandparent of students who reside in Sisters School District. “My health decision, because I have had the disease and am immune, and because I have asthma, I can’t wear a mask.”

Hedrick repeated, “Masks are required,” to which Cooper responded, “Then you are discriminating...would you like me to read you the statute on that?”

Hedrick declined the offer and the group went on arguing and disagreeing. Hedrick used the gavel to restore order and said, “This is not a debate. Masks are required. Those not wearing masks must leave the room.”

Cooper said, “I can choose my own medical decisions, including not wearing a mask that states right on the box that it does not protect you from COVID-19. Read the box!”

The others repeated, louder each time, “Read the box! Read the box! Read the box!” with one of the group laughing and saying, “If you guys believe [that the masks work] you’re all drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Hedrick then declared a 30-minute recess. Audience members were offered the option of sharing their emails with Board Secretary Mel Petterson in order to be able to sign in to the meeting via Zoom in order to participate remotely. No one came forward to accept the offer.

When Sisters Schools Superintendent Curt Scholl attempted to begin explaining the purpose of the recess, he was interrupted by loud murmurs from the crowd. Someone cleared their voice loudly, apparently to draw attention to the fact that Scholl was trying to speak, and four or five audience members loudly mimicked the voice-clearing in response.

When things quieted down, Scholl explained that the purpose of the 30-minute recess was to allow people to have time to get home and sign on to Zoom.

Board members left the area, administrators stepped outside for an impromptu meeting, and many community members remained in the room.

Some mask-wearing community members tried to engage those who disrupted the meeting, which resulted in raised voices for a minute or so before people dispersed.

During the recess, Cooper was asked what her purpose was in attending the meeting.

She said, “I’m not here to make a decision or say anything about anything. I just wanted to hear how the School Board plans to go about handling their employees being forced to take a vaccine.”

Once she used the word vaccine the other three women chimed in, saying, “It’s not even a vaccine, it’s not even a vaccine. It’s a treatment.”

At 6:30 p.m. the meeting resumed and Hedrick led the Pledge of Allegiance. He then asked for a motion to approve the consent agenda, which included the acceptance of six new teacher hires and one resignation, which passed 5-0.

Hedrick then adjourned the meeting, leaving the remaining items on the agenda, which included a finance report, administrators’ reports, an enrollment report, and a bond update, for next month’s meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, October 6 at 6 p.m.

A month ago, at the August School Board meeting, a dozen speakers spent a total of 40 minutes or more during the community comment portion of the meeting mainly voicing opposition to the state’s mask mandate put in place by Governor Kate Brown.

After Wednesday’s meeting Hedrick said that since the gathering couldn’t go on safely, the Board had no choice but to adjourn and pick up next month.

About a dozen people in attendance came in support of the district’s stance on masks, but never got the opportunity to speak.

“I feel badly for all the people who came prepared to follow the procedure and wanted to take part in the meeting, including members of the public and all the administrators and others who had reports to share,” Hedrick said.

Meeting information is posted in advance on the Sisters School District website, including the Zoom link.

 

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