Oregon’s Department of Education Withholds Funding to Punish Mask-Optional School Districts

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Alsea School District, a rural public-school system near the central Oregon coastline, announced last week that it would be making its mask mandate (mostly) optional, kicking the decision back to parents and families. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) was having none of it. Oregon’s Fox 12 reports:

Superintendent Marc Thielman of the Alsea School District announced on Friday that it’s up to parents if they want their child to wear a mask at school. The only time they’ll be required to wear a mask is on the school bus because of a federal mandate for public transit.

Now, the Oregon Department of Education is withholding federal COVID-19 relief funds from the district until they are in compliance with the state’s indoor mask mandate. Oregon OSHA is the agency tasked with investigating mask complaints in the workplace. They’ll investigate if complaints are filed.

Alsea is not the first district to incur ODE’s wrath. “Adrian School District in Malheur County was fined by Oregon OSHA and has since come back into compliance,” Fox 12 writes.

Oregon — my home state — has long led the nation in Covid insanity, particularly when it comes to masking. It is one of just nine remaining states that still has a mask mandate, which applies in indoor public spaces regardless of one’s vaccination status. It was the last remaining state to have an outdoor mask mandate, which also applied to both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents, until it repealed the order at the end of November. And in December, it became the first state to make its mask mandate permanent. (Or “indefinite,” to use the squirrelly language of the state’s public-health bureaucracy). It’s unclear how long that particular rule will last. “Is it ever going to be repealed?,” I wrote at the time. “Oregon’s public-health officials assure us that it can be. They stop short, however, of promising that it will. And their record of broken promises over the course of the last two years does not inspire confidence.”

The state’s religious attachment to wearing cloth face-coverings continues in its punitive attacks on school districts that flout its diktats. Would that there were more school officials like Marc Thielman. In his Friday letter, the Alsea superintendent wrote that “the right of any student, staff, or person to individually choose to mask WILL BE RESPECTED. There will be zero tolerance for any mask shaming moving forward. Omicron is still prevalent and each individual must make their own decision as how to best manage their perceived risks based on their own assessment.” He concluded: “I believe it will serve our school climate well by restoring confidence, reducing unhealthy mask conflict, and restoring respect for individual decision making without fear of reprisal. We are blessed to live and work in Alsea and I look forward to seeing so many real faces again on Monday.”

A very sensible statement, grounded in both scientific reality and common sense. So naturally, it’s unacceptable to Oregon’s political establishment.

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