School Board hears from protesters

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Some 100 residents showed up at the Lebanon School Board’s meeting Thursday, Aug. 12, to protest the governor’s mask mandate for K-12 this school year.
With conviction and passion, citizens voiced their concerns and pointed questions to the board about what they were going to do to take a stand.
At the end of the meeting, the board members agreed to let citizens add their names to a resolution being sent to the governor petitioning to rescind Gov. Kate Brown’s July 29 mandate requiring masks for children at school.
Since only 20 seats were available inside the Lebanon Travel Station where the board meeting takes place, most of the crowd stood outside with signs.

LAURA STEWART, organizer of the event, addresses the crowd who showed up Thursday, Aug. 12, to protest the governor’s mask mandate for schools.

Laura Stewart organized the protest, and was the first to speak to the school board during the public comment period.
She started by pointing out, “I know you guys are in a tough place with the mandates coming down, trying to find ways around it for parents who aren’t happy.”
She cited Dean Sidelinger, epidemiologist and health officer for Oregon, as saying there’s no scientific evidence that school-age children are responsible for community spread.
“Essentially what the government has done is said, ‘We know that there is no scientific evidence to back our decision, but we’re going to do it anyway,” Stewart said, following that up with a statement that masks cause developmental harm to children.
Stewart said there’s a chance schools will return to distance learning, which would be too difficult, and mostly impossible for parents who cannot home-school.
“So when is it, as a board, that you decide to take a morally conscious stand for what is right?” she said. “Our founding fathers came here to get away from those rules, to stand up against the government when the rules weren’t right. So we have to know, when is your stand?”
Jamie Cobat told the board it’s not personal and she’s not there to tell anybody how to do their jobs, but she did ask, “Why are you here if you’re not going to keep (our children’s) best interest at heart?”
Eduardo Jimenez told the board he’s a nine-year Army combat veteran.
“I fought for these freedoms,” he said. “You’re not going to take these freedoms from my children. It’s not gonna happen.”
He added, “In the military, there’s also push-back, and some push-back wins. But you’re not gonna know until you try.”
Josh Rebel shared a statistic that .93 percent of children in Oregon were hospitalized from COVID, and three total deaths, which is .0079 percent, making a 99.9921 percent survival rate.
Jason Powell pointed out there are several school districts in Oregon that refused to follow the mandates.
Aspen Rogers said her biggest fear is harm coming to her children, and after researching state and nationwide data regarding COVID, she is not concerned about sending her daughter to school without a mask.
“Let them be kids, and let them be free,” she said.
Melinda Davis asked the board if they would consider medical exemptions.
Alisa Triglia said this situation isn’t about masks, but, rather, it’s about government control.

RESIDENTS congregate outside the Santiam Travel Station Thursday, Aug. 12, before the School Board’s monthly meeting.

“Our children are not for sale to get funds from the federal government to keep us going,” Triglia said. “If you keep bowing down to the federal government that is against us, we are all going to lose our rights inch by inch.”
Renee Lindsey noted Gov. Kate Brown’s recent move to remove reading and math proficiency requirements for graduation in order to give minorities a chance, saying it is the most racist thing she’s ever heard.
“When you can put something like that into a state law, there is nothing in this state that is for the children,” she said.
As the school board tried to conduct their meeting, members in the audience made disruptive outbursts.
Board Chair Michael Martin told the citizens some of the board members share similar sentiments.
On June 25, Gov. Brown issued an order that gave school districts a local decision-making model for communities to make health and safety decisions that best serve their students.
On July 29, the governor did an about-face, directing the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to create a rule that requires masks indoors for K-12 schools for the upcoming school year.
The Lebanon School Board resolved to object to the July 29 order and support the June 25 order, returning governance to the local district.
“I think the resolution is a good place to start, but I don’t think it’s where we finish,” said board member Tammy Schilling.
Regarding Gov. Brown’s most recent mandate for all people to wear masks in public places, Supt. Bo Yates said his goal is to try to minimize negative impact to the learning environment.
“I’m pretty happy that we’re coming back to doing five days in person, full day instruction with kids,” Yates said. “My biggest fear is not an issue with masks. My biggest fear is the issue with masks, that we’re going to have to shut down a school or shut down classrooms.”
The school board agenda packet included a list of liabilities a school district could face if they do not follow the rules from ODE, including a $500-per-person-per-incident penalty, and liabilities if a student or staff should claim they contracted COVID because the district failed to abide by the mandate.
“I am not comfortable with the fact that the governor’s office is stealing the taxpayer’s money and holding it hostage over us and what we’re required to do,” said board member Todd Gestrin during the discussion.
Members of the public clapped as Gestrin continued: “Through the resolution, it’s the strongest thing we can do until there’s enough districts and enough school boards across the state to do the same thing and get the governor to change, or for the districts to come together to take action,” he said.
If teachers’ licenses are in jeopardy and board members are legally held responsible, their hands are tied and they have to try to get her to change her stance, Gestrin said.
“Please don’t think that we don’t respect your opinion,” he told the attendees in the audience. “But we truly have our hands tied because of the mandates that have been placed upon every school district in the state of Oregon.”
The public clapped when board member Richard Borden said it’s going to take a fight.
When the audience was invited to speak again, Chris Nordstrand pointed out Yates’ silence on where he stood. Initially, Yates said he was going to follow guidance as best he can, but later said, “A mask is not where we want our kids to be, but the other part of it is I want our kids to be in school five days a week, and I don’t want to jeopardize that. There’s a balance.”
Melissa Barnard, who lost her job as a hairdresser because of COVID mandates, urged the board,“please, please, the time to stand is now, and we will stand with you.”
The board also heard from a mother who spoke between her tears as she told the story about her daughter, who was formally a straight-A student. Her daughter’s grades plummeted when they were forced to study at home last year, and she became suicidal.
The mother indicated she didn’t know what to do, when her child needs to be in school for her mental health, but she suffers from severe anxiety when she wears a mask.
“I’m forced to decide,” the mother said. “What do us parents do when our children want to interact? What are you asking me to do, to choose? There are parents out there that don’t know what to do. You’ve got to start putting children first. It’s on you”

An abandoned sign sits outside the Lebanon Travel Station after the school board meeting ended.

As the meeting wound down, people in the audience continued to urge discussion on the matter.
“What happens now?” someone asked. “What is your next step in defending our children and rights?”
Board member Tammy Schilling suggested everyone in the audience sign the resolution that the school board is sending to the governor. The audience eagerly agreed to participate, as well as help hand deliver the resolution to the Capitol

Martin said he will take the resolution up himself on Tuesday, Aug. 17, and it was indicated that a group of people might caravan along.
“Bring your signs,” Martin said.

UPDATE: Martin canceled delivery to the Capitol because the legislation is closed for the year. An email and certified delivery will be made instead.

A live-streamed video of the school board meeting can be found on YouTube. That link can also be found on the district’s website under “archived School Board meetings.”
In other business, the board reviewed a timeline for the superintendent evaluation for the next year.