Salem-Keizer school board cancels meeting due to ‘disregard for health’ – Statesman Journal

The Salem-Keizer school board has canceled its upcoming work session — originally scheduled for Aug. 24 — due to “disrespect, racial and transphobic comments, and a disregard for health and safety protocols” witnessed at its last meeting.

The packed conference room on Aug. 10 included many individuals testifying for or against school mask mandates for the upcoming year. Gov. Kate Brown has required that all schools require students and staff wear masks indoors.

Nearly 40 written comments were submitted to the board as well. Most of the 37 writers wanted either no masks required for students or the option for parents to make the decision, according to a public comment summary.

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Some argued they would rather be at school with a mask than not at all, and another believed the board “should model healthy behavior and wear masks during the public meetings.”

Of the school board members physically present on Aug. 10, members Danielle Bethell and Marty Heyen were the only ones not wearing a mask. Member Karina Guzmán Ortiz joined remotely. The statewide indoor mask mandate did not go into effect until Friday, Aug. 13.

By Aug. 14, three people were identified for being exposed at the Aug. 10 meeting to a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

District officials did not disclose who tested positive or who was directly exposed but said those who were have been contacted. Officials said, “[N]o members of the public who attended the meeting (were) identified as an exposure.”

“Because the exposed were vaccinated and practiced multiple layers of protection, they are not required to quarantine … unless they begin to develop primary COVID-19 symptoms,” according to the district’s announcement.

“Those exposed will continue to monitor themselves for primary COVID-19 symptoms and seek any medical advice from their primary care physician should they need to do so.”

This week, board leadership announced it would cancel its upcoming meeting; it will not be held virtually. Read the full announcement, released Wednesday, here:

Salem-Keizer Community,

It is with deep regret that due to ongoing public safety concerns within our community, the Salem-Keizer School Board meeting for August 24 is canceled. This was to have been an opportunity for the board to hear from staff and students about the amazing partnership between our school district and Chemeketa Community College, including the redesign of our alternative education program. Our goal was to interact with students and staff while seeing the new agriculture complex at Chemeketa. We will reschedule at a time we can accomplish this in person. To the students and staff who prepared for this meeting and to our partners at Chemeketa, we apologize.  

We are seeing a continual call in our community to create disruption to our board and our schools with divisiveness that has no place in the lives of our students. At our last board meeting, we witnessed disrespect, racial and transphobic comments, and a disregard for health and safety protocols. We believe our communities of Salem and Keizer are better than this, and board leadership does not want any person to be in an environment where they will not feel safe or welcome.

As a board, we remain highly committed to our goal of getting our students back to school for five days a week of in-person instruction. Getting students in school physically and having them remain in school is our single focus. 

Please join us as a community in our commitment to get our students back in school, and support our healthcare workers who are working around the clock taking care of our critically ill community members.

Be safe, mask up, get vaccinated and support the safe return of our students to school!

For more information, go to salkeiz.k12.or.us/schoolboard.

Contact reporter Natalie Pate at npate@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6745, Twitter @NataliePateGwin, or Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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