The same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that students and staff in schools will have to wear masks when classes start this fall, a new Facebrook group was created in Baker County as a forum for people who object to the mask mandate.
The group is called “Baker City Parents Against School Mask Mandates.”
It was started on Thursday, July 29, 2021, and by 2 p.m. on July 30, the group had 811 members.
It’s a private group, meaning people who want to post comments or to read others’ comments have to request admission from the group administrator.
Kerry McQuisten, Baker City mayor, Oregon gubernatorial candidate and mother of a daughter entering fifth grade, said she was planning to have her daughter return to Baker schools after homeschooling her during the pandemic.
But McQuisten said that unless the mask mandate is overturned, she will continue to homeschool her daughter this year.
McQuisten said the Facebook group’s creator, Claire Conklin, asked her to share the page on her personal page.
McQuisten said there were about 20 members at that time Thursday afternoon, and the numbers grew rapidly.
“I think this is a huge hot button issue, not just here but across the state,” McQuisten said.
She contends there is no scientific evidence to support the validity of requiring students to wear masks.
“This has to stop,” she said.
Brown announced the mask requirement Thursday morning, citing a recent surge in cases driven by the delta variant.Students and staff wore masks during the previous school year. But during the Baker School District’s Summer Academy programs, masks were required only on buses and other transportation, and in some indoor settings when students from grades K-6 are present.
The Baker School Board is slated to discuss district protocols when it has a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 5 at noon.
But Lindsey McDowell, the district’s public information and communications coordinator, wrote in an email to the Baker City Herald on Thursday, July 29 that “We will be following all directives and working closely with the health department, as we’ve done throughout the course of the pandemic. The only protocol we’ve relaxed since the end of the last school year was with regard to face coverings; and with the return to full-time, universal face coverings while indoors at schools, we will simply be returning to the protocols we had at the end of the last school year.”
The school district has had only one COVID-19 case in the Summer Academy program.
“We are fortunate to have had only one new positive COVID-19 case affecting the school district since the end of May,” Superintendent Mark Witty said in a press release on Friday, July 30. “As the more contagious Delta variant spreads and we head into a new school year, we will be working as closely as ever with the Health Department to take into account local conditions.”
Baker County reported 22 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, July 29 — the second-highest one-day total, following 19 new cases on Tuesday, July 27. The county had 55 new cases in a four-day period, July 26-29.
The one-day record is 25 cases, on Dec. 28, 2020.
“We’re seeing an increase in cases, and we need to get a handle on it or we’re going to be in bad shape as a county,” Nancy Staten, director of the Baker County Health Department, said earlier this week.
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