SALEM — Leaders of the Oregon School Boards Association recently admonished school board members across the state to uphold their oaths of office and follow all laws, even those they disagree with.

They conveyed that message in an open letter — signed by the association’s executive director, president and the head of its board members of color caucus — that took clear aim at the notable number of school board members who have directed school employees to defy mask mandates intended to keep children safe from COVID-19. It also called out, without naming them, the four members of the Newberg School Board who directed their superintendent to ban displays of Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols in Newberg schools.

“We are … lamentably seeing a remarkable number of board members doing their very best to ignore the law or openly defy it,” Director Jim Green, President Maureen Wolf and members of color caucus head Sami Al-Abdrabbuh wrote. “Such behavior is simply unacceptable. “We are duly elected leaders of our communities,” the three, all of whom have also served on local school boards, continued. “We set examples for young people … We call on Oregon’s more than 1,400 school board members to carefully weigh the consequences of your actions, to heed your oaths, and to lead by example.”

The letter comes on the heels of dramatic school board actions to defy what some members feel is unacceptable overreach by Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority. Oregon has a long tradition of local control of public schools, which are governed by elected local school boards, but also subjects schools to state laws, executive orders and administrative rules.

Brown and the two state agencies have required universal mask wearing in schools, made being vaccinated a condition of employment for school employees and required school boards to pass “every student belongs” policies that call for full inclusion of students regardless of race, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation.

In addition to anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Black votes by the Newberg board this summer, the Albany school board fired Superintendent Melissa Goff after she championed racial equity, and the school board in Adrian fired its superintendent after he indicated he would enforce masking rules. In Redmond, a packed crowd cheered as the five-person school board considered a resolution to defy mask rules.

Since firing its superintendent, the Adrian school board approved a letter to all district families that said in part, “Although in our view Oregon’s pandemic steps have been consistently wrong, we believe that complying with the mask order is in the best interest of our students,” the Oregon School Boards Association reported.

The letter the statewide association’s leaders sent to all Oregon school board members is notable in part because the association and its leaders have always shown or voiced awareness that they represent an extremely diverse membership. Oregon’s roughly 200 school districts range in size from two students to 47,000, encompass rural, suburban and big or medium-size city communities, and range in political leaning from very conservative to very liberal.

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