Opponents of mask mandates speak out at school board meeting

Concerned citizens filled the gymnasium at Central Elementary School during the school board meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.

Over the past couple weeks, school boards across Union County have faced difficult decisions regarding mask mandates in school. Due to the implication of potential fines and loss of teaching licenses for not complying, there is not much of a decision to be made.

With their backs against the wall, several school boards such as La Grande and Union have adopted plans for returning to school with masks required amid opposition from parents and community members.

While the health and safety of students is always the priority, sports will likely see an impact from the mandate as well. The Oregon School Activities Association, in accordance with Gov. Kate Brown’s requirement for schools, announced that masks will be required for indoor sports and events this fall. Athletes and coaches are mostly used to those rules after last season, but the tension from parents against the mandate could have a ripple effect.

At local school board meetings, a number of parents have stated they will homeschool their children outside of their respective school districts. Not only does this impact the school’s funding based on total enrollment, but it also adds eligibility issues for sports. Student-athletes who are home-schooled or learn virtually through the district may compete in sports this year, but students homeschooled outside of the district will not be eligible.

School enrollment also plays a factor in how divisions are implemented for sports, so there may be changes if a large number of parents take their children out of their districts.

For most athletic directors in the area, the masks are just a small hurdle in providing student-athletes with the best overall experience. Coaches and athletes just want to go out and compete, especially after a year filled with cancellations and shortened seasons.

The 2021 season offers hope for a much more normal sports environment compared to last year, but lingering issues over masks could prove to be a stumbling block.

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Davis Carbaugh covers news and sports for The Observer. He can be contacted at dcarbaugh@lagrandeobserver.com.

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