PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant “has changed everything,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in an open letter to school board members and superintendents this week. She also implored Oregon’s school leaders to not “jeopardize” the return to full-time, in-person instruction.

With fall fast approaching, Gov. Brown is urging school leaders and teachers to ensure classrooms remain full and in-person by mitigating any COVID-19 spread. She said by taking precautions that we know are effective, schools can protect the health and safety of students.

Brown issued this letter in response to “troubling statements and actions from local school leaders indicating they would ignore state law.” Some school boards around the region have reportedly passed or are considering passing resolutions opposing the state’s K-12 indoor mask requirements, which were announced late last month.

“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 (ADA) to avoid mask requirements,” Brown said in her letter.

The governor was referring to Superintendent Marc Thielman of the Alsea School District, about 2 hours from Portland. Brown called this action deeply appalling and offensive to Oregon parents and children with disabilities.

The issue is also coming to a head at school board meetings, including a meeting at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District Board meeting on Monday that was adjourned early due to unruly behavior and yelling.

Since several people at the meeting refused to wear masks, they in-person meeting was adjourned and re-started over Zoom. District officials said those who showed up to protest the mask mandate weren’t even affiliated with the school.

‘Simple and effective precautions’

“Throughout this pandemic, my north star for decisions about our schools has been to do what is best for our students. We know that students’ mental, physical, behavioral, social, and emotional health is best served when they can be in schools for full-time, in-person instruction,” Brown said. “The Delta variant puts this goal at risk. It puts our children’s health and lives at risk. But, by again taking simple and effective precautions, we can still return our children to classrooms full-time this fall.”

The governor is asking school districts to not take actions that defy state and federal laws, but instead take steps that protect our students — like wearing a mask, for instance.

Rose City Park Elementary first graders are back in the classroom for the first day of hybrid learning. (PPS)

“Because that’s the thing about masks: they don’t just protect you, they protect everyone around you,” Brown’s letter continued. “Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. By wearing masks, we are teaching our children that they can protect each other in the classroom. That we can all work together to keep each other safe.”

Brown said when she was visiting classrooms around the state back in the spring, she witnessed children who were “overjoyed” to be with their friends and teachers once again. For them, she said, the safety protocols in place were not seen as a burden — but as a simple benefit that allowed them to be back in the classroom with their peers.

The governor spoke to the pervasive attitude she has seen in action at school board meetings and on social media, in which individuals feel that these safety mandates and requirements are limiting personal freedoms.

“I have not heard as much said about personal responsibility. As leaders, we have a great responsibility to our students and their futures. One of the sacred, fundamental responsibilities of a school district and its leaders is to keep the children in their care safe,” she said. “It is up to us to make clear-eyed decisions based on science and fact. Flouting mask requirements will put everything we have worked towards in the last year at risk.”

She concluded by saying without masks universally worn throughout our schools, the delta variant will undoubtedly spread.

The statewide school mask requirement was announced on July 29, following both a recent spike in Oregon’s COVID-19 cases and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the governor’s full letter below