Oregon’s Department of Education is withholding federal COVID-19 relief funds from a small, rural school district because it announced it would not comply with the state’s mask mandate.
The school board of the Alsea School District, 25 miles southwest of Corvallis, the home of Oregon State University, voted unanimously earlier this month for the “return of local Health and Safety Decision-Making,” reported The Oregonian daily of Portland.
“This means parents must decide if they wish for their child to be masked when at school, both inside or outside,” wrote Superintendent Marc Thielman last Friday in a letter to parents.
In response, the state’s education director, Colt Gill told Thielman and board chairman Ron Koetz that Oregon “requires school districts to comply with all state laws and regulations.”
The state has suspended Alsea’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, amounting to about $180,000.
Gill warned that by making masks voluntary the district “should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19 that will prevent students from participating in in-person learning.”
Alsea schools are closed this week amid a surge in cases, but Thielman argued in an email to The Oregonian that the “current omicron wave that created our staff shortage occurred when we were still enforcing masking.”
“This reality only adds to the wisdom of our school board to take back local control and let each individual make their own decisions regarding masking,” said Thielman, a Republican who’s running for governor of Oregon.
He said that when the schools reopen Monday, the district will maintain its new voluntary mask policy.
“The decision comes from the overwhelming quantitative and qualitative data and scientific evidence that masking has had little to no significant effect at slowing the spread of (the omicron variant of Covid-19),” he said.
Thielman told The Oregonian it’s “well understood science that cloth and paper masks are ineffective at filtering out aerosolized” omicron particles.
“OHA and Colt Gill need to stop being science deniers and catch up with this virus,” he said.
A former adviser to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of more than 150 studies and articles presenting data and evidence that universal masking is ineffective in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and causes harm.
Paul Alexander, in an article for the Brownstone Institute listing the studies, says his focus is on “the prevailing science that we have had for nearly 20 months.”
“To date, the evidence has been stable and clear that masks do not work to control the virus and they can be harmful and especially to children,” he writes.
Another Oregon school district – the Adrian School District in Malheur County – also was “found willfully out of compliance with the face-covering rules,” according to the state Department of Education, The Oregonian reported.
Thielman, noting the district has the next three years to spend the federal COVID funds, said he’s confident that the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Education “will have changed their conflicting guidance by then.”
He wrote on Twitter over the weekend: “At what point will Gov. (Kate) Brown & [Oregon Health Authority] listen to diversity of voices they’re tasked with serving as experts across the globe move to balance measures against the collateral damages done by the very measures they installed to protect the public?”
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