Alsea superintendent: Mask letter to parents ‘out of context’


Letter to parents explained how to ask for an ADA accommodation over masks

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman sent a letter to the parents in the district with information about the upcoming school year. But the letter — posted to the district’s website — drew the attention and apparent ire of Gov. Kate Brown.

Thielman told KOIN 6 News many parents reached out to him directly about students and teachers wearing masks in school. Many of the parents are opposed to the idea, he said.

“We had a whole lot more parents saying anywhere from, ‘If there are no options withdraw my kid,’ to ‘What are my options?’ and as a superintendent I need to be responsive to that,” he said Tuesday night. “I guess I had the option of not saying anything at all and just letting parents think there weren’t any, but there are.”

Thielman outlined a section on OHA’s rule on schools and masks that states schools must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He told families that under ADA anyone may request a plan accommodation regarding school or workplace requirements.

In her open letter to school boards and superintendents, Brown lambasted leaders challenging the mask mandate.

“I am aware of one district leader who has sent a letter to parents urging them to request an accommodation for their child under the Americans with Disabilities Act to avoid mask requirements. I find it deeply appalling that any education leader––who is supposed to be setting an example for our students––would send a communication so callous and offensive to Oregon parents and children with disabilities,” the governor wrote.

Asked if he was laying out a plan to cheat the system, Thielman said that’s not what he was doing.

Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman, August 17, 2021 (KOIN)

“I don’t recall saying that in my letter. I didn’t encourage students to lie in this letter,” he said. “The thing is if parents say, ‘What are the options?’ I’m going to give them the options.”

In a statement to KOIN 6 News. Tom Stenson, the Deputy Legal Director for Disability Rights Oregon, said:

“The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act are laws that protect people with disabilities. They ensure, among other things, that students with disabilities can go to school safely and get an education that meets their needs. No matter what one school superintendent says, students who do not have disabilities cannot get a Section 504 plan and have no right to do so. When people without disabilities abuse nondiscrimination laws and encourage others to falsely claim those protections, they jeopardize the rights of students with disabilities.”

Thielman also said the message was taken out of context and that neither Gov. Brown nor the Oregon Department of Education called to find out what the context was. Thielman said not only will students be wearing masks in his Benton County district, they’ve also implemented other layers of protection against COVID.

“It’s frustrating for me because she just associated the Alsea School District with districts that either want to defy or not fully implement the mandate and that is not what I had told parents in the notice or the letter she’s referring to,” Thielman said.

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