Seeing a room crowded with mask-less people — who were boisterous in their opposition to statewide indoor mask requirements and refused to comply — West Linn-Wilsonville School Board Chair Chelsea King quickly adjourned a meeting Monday, Aug. 16.
"So what we are going to do, because we obviously cannot do this in person, I'm going to adjourn the meeting. We are going to move to remote," she said.
Her decision to reconvene virtually 40 minutes later was met with both jeers and claps.
Distinct but tethered discussions surrounding how governments should respond to an ever-persistent pandemic and how schools should teach the history of racism in America continue to reverberate locally. Like at a previous meeting July 12, locals intended to make their voices heard on such issues by filing into the administrative building Monday. Some even waved signs and flags advocating against the teaching of critical race theory as people entered and exited the building.
Because the meeting switched to a virtual format, vocal testimony was nixed and people had to submit written testimony for the board to glean their thoughts.
While the mood of the meeting was polarized, those who submitted written testimony were mostly in favor of mask mandates and were satisfied with the way the district teaches American history.
The district has said CRT, which is the theory that racism does not only exist individually but is systemic to American society, is not in the curriculum but can be a lens through which racism is taught in classrooms.
Bruce Wilson, who was one of the protesters outside the district office, said in an interview that the district should have an "opt in" option for when certain aspects of the theory emerge in the classroom. At the same time, he felt, though he didn't provide evidence, that CRT is a pervasive force within local schools.
"I am for talking about racism. This isn't about shutting down the conversation. This is about having an accurate explanation for the cause of our ugly history," he said, adding that he doesn't know exactly how racism should be taught in schools but that CRT is inaccurate.
Others in the community posited that the anti-CRT rhetoric is a component of a backlash against racial equity advancements and an all-encompassing teaching of American history.
"Recent efforts advocating for a watered down accounting of racial injustice and systemic racism are appalling. Without a complete understanding of race, privilege and systemic barriers faced by so many of our friends, neighbors, colleagues and community members, children will not be well equipped for the future. Today's professional roles demand an intricate and detailed understanding of racism and the practical strategies to advance racial equity," Rose Rezai wrote to the board.
Other points of discussion during the virtual meeting, were led by Superintendent Kathy Ludwig, who reiterated that the district will follow state guidance, including the current indoor mask mandate, during the upcoming school year. Some exceptions to the policy include when people are eating or working in a private space and when athletes are playing sports. However, adults in the stands will need to wear masks.
She added that if students are wearing masks in the classroom, three feet of distance (rather than six) constitutes exposure. Things like keeping intact classes and assigned seats on buses could be ways to minimize exposure, Ludwig added. The district is again hiring temporary positions to help out with contact tracing and quarantining for students exposed to the virus will not be required if they are vaccinated and not experiencing symptoms.
"We want to make sure everything we do next year has real intention and focus," Ludwig said.
Wilsonville resident Jeff Mayer said he agreed with the indoor mask mandate in his public testimony.
"I believe it is an imperative and the true responsibility of the school board to protect the health, welfare and safety of the most vulnerable in our community: the students, the teachers and the staff who are tasked to teach and lead them throughout their day," he wrote. "Our children, all the students placed in the care of this district, spend a full third of their day under your care, and rely on you to ensure their health and safety during this time."