Findley, Owens push back on masks in schools; urge meetings in each county

ONTARIO — The two state lawmakers whose areas include Malheur County have sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown pushing back on her mandate for masking for students in kindergarten through 12th grade this fall.

Her mandate was issued late last week and directed Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to create mask policies for the coming school year.

In their opening statement, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Harney, said, “As legislators, we remain consistent in our positions that our local school districts, in conjunction with local public health authorities continue to have the best pulse on their communities and should ultimately be the arbiters of mask policies and mandates.”

The lawmakers requested that Brown make public the specific data she used to mandate a state-wide, schools-wide policy, in light of the fact that Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist had said that there is not enough evidence that schools or students are responsible for community spread.

They also requested that officials in the governor’s office and ODE hold in-person town halls and listening sessions in every county to explain the new rules.

“These actions need to be made public and official, and these statewide entities have the responsibility to make these decisions known to our school districts,” the letter states, adding working virtually behind closed doors will not cut it.

Also, Findley and Owens said there need to be clear and precise metrics for when the school mask policy will be lifted.