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Masks again roil parents and school board

Medford School Board asks for local control of masks in schools — again

Medford School District’s superintendent has said he’d like to pursue an optional masking policy no later than March 31, but the overwhelming message from the school board and the public is clear ... the switch should happen sooner.

For the second time in recent months, the board Thursday night approved a letter urging the state to allow the district “local control” of COVID-19 prevention measures. That did not come without a rigorous sound off from families of Medford students, with signs saying, “Let Us Choose” and “Let Kids Breathe.”

“The emergency is over. It is time to end all mandates,” said Amanda Moreira, co-captain of a group calling itself the Oregon Moms Union. “We’re only one of a handful of states that still even have an unconstitutional mandate in place. We’ve been patient, we’ve been understanding, but we’ve had enough.”

Moreira referenced opportunities for people to make their voices heard on district policy regarding face coverings, as well as the fact they were briefly lifted during summer programming in 2021.

“Now, we have a carrot dangling in front of us with a promise to lift the mask mandate, and all I feel is skepticism,” she said. “The decision-making is being done by appointed individuals and bureaucratic agencies that we did not vote for. They are willfully denying facts. They didn’t want to listen to us. But will you?”

After the public comment portion of the meeting, a lively discussion between school board members ensued over the Oregon Health Authority’s announcement last week about indoor masking in public places, including schools.

Board member Jim Horner suggested that if coronavirus case counts continue downward, Medford schools should be allowed to implement optional masking by March 1. That thought, he said, excited him.

Board member Tod Hunt was much more blunt.

“The problem is, we’re cow-towing to the government and allowing them to dictate how we live our lives,” he said. “The fact that we have to wait until the 31st is ridiculous.”

He urged the board and families to be out front on the issue of mask mandates.

“This stuff is not going away unless we stand up now, push back and say, ‘enough is enough,’” Hunt said to applause from the audience.

After discussion, the board approved a letter addressed to numerous state officials, urging them to delegate decision-making to the district and local public health authorities. Such control ”should include lifting the mask rule for schools earlier, if case rates decline, and local public health is in agreement.“

On Friday, Tanya Phillips, health promotion program manager for Jackson County Public Health, said her agency is not making any recommendations on masking for schools because it is continuing to follow the state laws and requirements. She did not immediately elaborate on what might cause optional masking to be recommended before March 31.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.