Bret Uptmor

Grant School District 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor.

Grant School District’s superintendent is pushing for local control after Gov. Kate Brown said students in kindergarten through 12th grades would be required to wear masks to prevent COVID-19 in the upcoming school year.

Brown, on Thursday, directed the Oregon Health Authority and the state Department of Education to create a rule to require masks indoors for K-12 schools statewide for the 2021-22 school year, in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently updated guidance.

Grant School District 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor said the district had planned to have local control since June and that the board had not taken a position on a mask mandate.

The school district, Uptmor said, had been working on finalizing its plans for the 2021-22 school year when Brown made the announcement.

“Our preparation for the school year was predicated on us having local control of decisions,” Uptmor said in a Friday press release. “I believe we can provide the safest learning environment using our data to assess the danger of COVID in our district.”

Uptmor said the governor’s announcement surprised him for a couple of reasons. First, as a superintendent of schools, he said he hoped there would have been enough trust to let the school district know the mask mandate was coming beforehand.

“We didn’t know anything about it,” he said.

Second, he said, the state disregarded the other parts of the district’s plan requirements entirely, including physical distancing and vaccinations.

“We have a lot of things that we’re trying to do to make sure our kids are safe, and this (masking) is only a portion of it,” he said. “It’s not the entire plan, and I think we can manage wearing masks and not wearing masks locally.”

Uptmor said he recommended masks in the draft plan that he sent to the board.

He said community members told him they did not want the schools to require face covering. He said some pleaded with him to consider that position when making the plan, and he said he did consider not requiring masks.

“There may be others out there that would rather have masks,” he said. “But the ones I’ve heard from are all saying no masks.”

Uptmor said the board would be discussing the district’s plan and a parent letter at the board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Grant Union High School’s old gym.

In the meantime, Uptmor said that he would like input from residents before the meeting. He also urged citizens to “reinforce” his advocacy for local control by contacting their elected representatives and state officials.

“I believe I have more of the students’ interest in mind by the actions that I take, rather then a blanket, ‘everybody has to wear a mask’ mandate,” he said.

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Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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