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Eagle Point school board passes ‘local control’ COVID-19 resolution

The document asks Gov. Kate Brown to change her coronavirus requirements to recommendations
Oregon flag on the background of a medical bottle for injection and syringe for vaccination. Coronavirus vaccine

The Eagle Point School District 9 board of directors unanimously has approved a resolution essentially asking Gov. Kate Brown to give the district control in handling COVID-19 policies for its schools.

The governor has in place COVID-19 requirements, but the resolution urges her to turn them into recommendations, allowing the district to “work with Jackson County Public Health to determine the appropriate mitigation strategies for our schools.”

“I think we should send a resolution every day, as far as I’m concerned,” Emily McIntire, chairman of the school board, told fellow members during the Nov. 17 meeting.

The district did not respond to extensive questions from the Mail Tribune about the resolution by deadline Thursday.

The resolution, which is available online, not only makes an explicit request to Brown, but sheds light on reasons why the district thinks it should be given control of COVID-19 policies for its own schools.

It says Eagle Point schools demonstrated reopening to in-person learning this year was safe because the district adhered to mask wearing and social distancing, which did not create super-spreader events. When there were coronavirus cases, the district communicated with constituents and contact-traced.

In introducing the resolution to Eagle Point school board members Wednesday, McIntire said passing it is the “first step” out of many for the district to get to the point where it can have a say over COVID-19 policies.

“We’ve got to do something — we need to be able to have local control,” she said. “Yes, there [are] risks to having local control — that means that if we say, ‘guess what, you guys are still wearing masks,’ it falls back on us, it doesn’t go up higher. I think we all need to be aware of that. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

She said the resolution has been shared and talked about in meetings with members from other school boards, including Medford, which will discuss the topic of local COVID-19 policy control at a work session in December.

During the meeting, McIntire mentioned Jim Green, head of the Oregon School Boards Association, who has advised Eagle Point on what it can and cannot do regarding coronavirus policy.

Green was not available for comment Thursday, but a spokesperson for OSBA pointed the newspaper to state code 401.165, which says the governor can declare an emergency during a public health crisis and that order does not end unless she terminates it or the Legislature does.

Another portion of the code says that during such an emergency, the governor can “suspend provisions of any order or rule of any state agency” if he or she determines that “strict compliance with the provisions of the order or rule would in any way prevent, hinder or delay mitigation of the effects of the emergency.”

The OSBA spokesman also said Green told Eagle Point about a state Supreme Court decision last year which found a circuit court judge was incorrect when he ruled Brown’s "Stay Home Save Lives'' orders were invalid. The reason, the court found, was because the judge cited the wrong state law — not 401.165.

Alex Pulaski, communications director for OSBA, wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune that,“ OSBA strongly supports local control and encourages school boards to make their views known to the public, legislators and the governor.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Eagle Point’s resolution when the newspaper asked Thursday.

The Jackson County Health Authority said it did not have answers to questions about local COVID-19 policy control with school districts and referred the Mail Tribune to the Oregon Health Authority.

The OHA responded, saying it has been “standard practice” for local health authorities to work with school districts on mitigation strategies for any institution experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19.

“Because of the uniqueness of schools and their student and staff populations, it’s often necessary to consider how best to control or prevent an outbreak based on the specific needs and make-up of a particular location,” Rudy Owens, public affairs specialist for OHA, wrote in an email.

He also pointed to portions of 2021-2022 Resiliency Framework, a document crafted jointly by OHA and Oregon’s Department of Education. On page 2, it says, “except where compliance is mandated by existing state law, this Resiliency Framework is advisory. Requirements are followed by the rule reference for ease of identification.”