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New School Board, Same Problems 

The two issues that dominated the 2021 school board election rear their heads at the Bend-La Pine district's first in-person meeting in over a year

The four recently elected members for the Bend-La Pine Schools Board of Directors were sworn in at the board's regular meeting on July 13, opposite a large and vocal crowd mostly opposed to mandating children to wear masks and the belief that critical race theory is being taught within the district.

The issues of masks and later CRT were central to the losing campaigns for candidates who competed against new members Marcus LeGrand, Janet Sarai Llerandi and Shirley Olson and incumbent Carrie McPherson-Douglass. Over 100 people attended the meeting, and seven people spoke during public comment opposing either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended use of masks in schools or CRT, often to the applause of other attendees.

  • Courtesy Bend La Pine Schools

New Superintendent Steve Cook confirmed at the meeting that summer school programs in August will follow CDC protocols requiring students be masked while indoors.

The speakers opposing the mask mandate said its continued use could be detrimental to children's mental health, that only masking unvaccinated people would be a form of discrimination and that children are the least susceptible population to COVID-19 and its most severe impacts.

"The consideration that some kids would wear masks and that others would not wear masks is really just outrageous, it's a red alarm of just outright discrimination," said Joshua Phillips, a naturopath based in Bend. "This is ethically objectionable, there's no scientific or medical merit in that line of thinking whatsoever, it's a thin veneer of propaganda and that's it."

Several people from the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national organization with branches in 24 states, attended. The local chair, Shelly Baker, said the trust has been broken between educators and parents over the alleged promotion of "certain political ideologies."

"Over the last few years and perhaps longer, the line between parental authority and education has been blurred. Moms for Liberty is here to clear that up," Baker said. "Our responsibility as parents is to be fully informed, involved, and engaged in our kids' education and environment at school."

Not all speakers shared the idea and some welcomed the new board members and pushed back against the idea the district promoted CRT or that it was mishandling COVID-19 regulations.

"I noticed during the campaign that there were two points that your opponents raised pretty frequently, one being making sure that the school's open, which they are and not teaching critical race theory which we don't," John Davidson said. "I'd like to congratulate you on addressing these two issues before you're even sworn in."

The district hasn't adopted CRT in its formal curriculum and the board members themselves responded to those who spoke during public comment, giving reason for the decisions to continue using masks and asking for more productive conversation. Amy Tatom, board member for zone 5, shared a letter signed by 28 local medical professionals asking for mask use and said that using masks prevents mass-quarantine events that would keep more kids out of school if an outbreak occurred. Llerandi asked those in the crowd to be willing to have a conversation on the issues.

"My advice to all of you folks who continue to show up in support of your passions is to come in with an open mind and come in with a spirit of engaging rather than telling so we can have honest conversations and we can discuss the actual issues that are at hand," Llerandi said.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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