By Romy Carver
It’s hard to find anything that everyone can agree on these days, but I think we can all agree that we love our kids and want them to be safe in school and get a good education. I’m certain that our newly elected Tillamook School District Board members care about their kids as well, but they are making some deeply concerning decisions that every taxpayer and parent should be aware of.
As the parent of two Tillamook School District kids, it is important to me that our schools follow all COVID precautions without question. Unfortunately, I’m no longer certain that precautions are being taken seriously by the school district. At their December work session, the school board unveiled a plan to draft a resolution for “local control” over COVID precautions. This resolution, once voted on by the school board, would be a request for the state to give our district local control over these decisions.
On the surface, this sounds great. Most of us can agree that not every decision made by Salem makes sense in Tillamook. We all like the idea of local control. However, the intent of this resolution is to get permission to revoke the mask mandate in our public schools.
At a time when COVID cases are at an all time high, this is an extremely reckless risk to take with our children, district staff, and families.
Even if the state chooses to grant Tillamook School District “local control,” that does not give the School Board permission to revoke the mask mandate. Only the state can do that.
The mandate is a STATE LAW: Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 333-019-1015, which requires masks in all Oregon K-12 schools.
Any violation of this law by our school board would invoke fines of $5000 per day from the district’s General Fund, plus $500 per day, per violation fines. Additionally, the members of the Tillamook School District board can be held legally liable for this decision in the event that someone becomes ill or dies as a result.
How many of us believe that Tillamook School District can afford thousands of dollars per day in fines? Is this a good use of taxpayer dollars?
In addition to the financial considerations, there are incredibly serious health considerations. How many kids getting sick is too many? How many teachers deserve to be exposed in their workplace? Speaking of workforce impact, how many teachers can we afford to lose to this? A kid who gets sick at school will take the illness home and expose their family, and those families are our workforce. How many more employees do employers want to lose?
How many more community members deserve to get sick and die just because a vocal minority is pressuring the school board due to their own inability to endure wearing a piece of cloth on their face?
Another concern is the January board meeting conversation about equity.
“Every Student Belongs” is state policy. Schools are to use this policy as a guideline, in conjunction with existing policy, to ensure they are meeting standards set by the state.
At the January meeting, the board was planning to heavily edit this policy, due to an apparent dislike for the term “equity.” One board member admitted that he doesn’t understand what “diversity” means, or what an “achievement gap” is. It’s alarming that a school board member doesn’t understand these basic terms. The board claims the policy is optional and want to eliminate it — it is not “optional.” A staff member at the Oregon Department of Education explained to me that the Every Student Belongs policy is tied to Division 22, which is a state requirement for the district to report back on how they are doing in providing an equitable education.
Failure to meet these requirements can result in financial consequences for our school district.
This policy protects many children who would fall through the cracks — for instance, children with disabilities. It ensures that we reach out to every child who is at risk of failing due to circumstances beyond their control and lift them up. This is the policy they wish to scrap.
Last but certainly not least, the board intends to arm teachers. At the January meeting they had announced their intention to get firearms training for teachers and allow those teachers to carry a concealed weapon in the classroom. Dozens of things can go wrong in a crowded classroom with over 30 students and one armed teacher that will result in tragedy.
For years, I’ve worried about school shootings but I never dreamed that I’d have to be concerned that the gun might inadvertently be brought into the school by the teacher. This is a terrible decision, and at the very least, this controversial idea deserves much more community input and discussion.
Instead, the school board members had already approached the sheriff and firearms trainers before reaching out to legal counsel, other districts, or the state Department of Education to find out the possible liabilities or ramifications of this idea. This shows a lack of understanding about process or forethought about the impact of decisions.
I have yet to speak to a single parent who wants their kids’ teachers carrying a gun in class. Yet these things are being planned and would have been voted into place at the January meeting had one of the board members not been absent. It’s ironic that the school board consider guns in the classroom less of a threat than a little piece of cloth.
Their priorities are backwards. These decisions are ill-informed, violate common sense, and show a disregard for child safety in favor of politics.
When each board member took their oath, they vowed to follow all federal and state laws. Yet three of them at the November meeting, and two of them at the January meeting, were not wearing a face mask at the school board meeting, on Tillamook School District property. This is a violation of both their oath and of state law. It is also a violation of Oregon state public meeting laws.
School board meetings are open to the public and are accessible via Zoom. Anyone can attend; I prefer Zoom so I will lessen my risk of exposure to COVID. At the last meeting, someone who was there in person was coughing while making public comment; she apologized and said she is getting over COVID. She wasn’t wearing a mask.
You don’t have to speak, or even be on camera if you want to attend. But if you are a Tillamook School District parent, I highly recommend that you become aware of what is happening in our tiny town right now as it will affect our children and community.
The bottom line is that not one of these decisions does anything to improve the quality of our children’s education. Nothing.
We need to all be concerned about decisions made without talking to legal counsel or following other due diligence. Willful resistance to following common sense rules and guidelines will give Tillamook a bad name and endanger children. Our kids deserve better than that.
The Board meets the second Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m. – February 14th is the next meeting. Meeting agendas are available on the Friday preceding the meeting, and the link to the meeting is posted on the school district’s website – https://www.tillamook.k12.or.us
Speak Out – Contact school board members – Several people have reached out to me, wondering what to do about the current situation with our local school board. The board stated in their meeting the other night that they want to hear from us. If you agree with me that we don’t need teachers packing guns in the classrooms, that equity policies handed down by the state should not be modified or eliminated, and that the district should follow state laws around masking, I encourage you to speak out.
Please consider attending school board meetings; they are available virtually so you don’t even have to leave your house. You can be off camera and muted but you will at least get to know first hand what’s going on. You can still speak during public comments even if you attend online. I know that’s not everyone’s thing, but there are other ways to speak out. For example, you can email them. Here’s their contact info:
Matt Petty: firstname.lastname@example.org
LaDonna Coon: email@example.com
Jesse Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kris Lachenmeier: email@example.com
Kurt Mizee: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can send letters to the board via snail mail, which can be sent to 2510 First Street.
Finally, let others know! Many people aren’t aware this is happening. Writing letters to the editor of local papers, speaking out on social media, and word of mouth are all very important.
Our kids are counting on us. Please reach out to me with any questions.