It was an environment of both chaos and frustration, as parents and community members gathered for the Monday evening, Sept. 13 Oakdale Joint Unified School District board meeting.
Prior to the opening of public comment, some members of the audience began challenging the board on the current Mask Mandate being upheld at all OJUSD campuses. As disapproval of the Board’s decisions erupted, interim Board President Tina Shatswell (filling in for President Barbara Shook, out ill) addressed the audience.
“We have Public Comment and you can do that,” Shatswell stated following bringing order by way of use of the gavel. She further gestured to the podium, explaining the process of Public Comment for those unfamiliar.
“I can tell all of you right now, there is no masking decision happening tonight. As much as we all would like it to, and I would love for it to change,” Shatswell said to the audience, “that’s not happening tonight. We’re not going to keep arguing. We’re not going to do that. There will be no mask change for the kids at school, no vote on that tonight.”
She further encouraged parents to stay and speak in Public Comment, as Superintendent Dave Kline noted they must mask up to speak.
The mention of masking up brought further disapproval from the audience, addressing Shatswell for placing her mask beneath her chin to speak, in general. After much criticism of the board member, Shatswell returned her mask to the proper position.
In an unorthodox fashion for the monthly board meetings, audience members were permitted to continue to talk from their seats prior to the opening of Public Comment.
Superintendent Kline referenced back to the Aug. 2 special board meeting, when questioned by an audience member regarding the legitimacy of the current Mask Mandate.
“After gathering the information and presenting the information as it was given, we made a decision that we needed to follow the mandate because that was what we felt compelled to do given the information that we had,” Kline stated.
“I can tell you, our board is elected and our board has the ability to make decisions moving forward,” he continued. “There are factors that have come up that we’ve talked about and the definitive answer is very specific.”
Superintendent Kline confessed to being hesitant to address certain specifics as well as ‘what if’ situations as things can very easily change.
“The board has the ability to vote one way or another,” Kline stated. “The board has the ability to say, we’re not doing this. We can push back. We have pushed back and will continue to do so.”
An OHS freshman addressed the board and respectfully questioned the board on the reasoning behind sitting next to students in a classroom, where exposure is likely versus playing her chosen sport which happens to be golf.
“I can’t play golf outside away from everyone else, but the logic is I can sit two inches away from some kid that I don’t even know,” the student pointed out.
Kline returned to the mandate from California Department of Public Health and following the guidelines set by them. Kline noted the usage of masks in the classroom versus wearing during sports.
“I’m sorry that you’re in that position,” Kline said to the student. “The research that they have said, is the transmission during sports as a result of breathing heavy, as a result of being in contact with somebody, the transmission is a little higher. So in order to keep kids safe during that infectious period of eight days, they’re excluding you from extracurricular activities including sports.”
He continued to share while he doesn’t like it, it is the guideline given to keep schools open.
Kline was then challenged by an attendee with the question if that ruling would also apply to Physical Education. The superintendent shared they would be unable to participate in the contact portion of physical education if they had been exposed.
“There’s nothing consistent in what’s being said here,” the unidentified speaker stated, noting the hypocrisy in allowing exposed students to participate in PE but not athletics. “You’re talking about young minds trying to process this. Then you wonder why kids are killing themselves. You guys have to do something; it has to be more consistent.”
Community member Gene Gilton took to the podium for Public Comment, echoing much of what was said by the prior speaker.
“All we’re asking here, is for you guys to lead our children with logic. Lead our children down a path that you want them to go down,” Gilton requested of the board. “We want our children in Oakdale to go down a path that they can be proud of, coming from Oakdale.”
Gilton continued to press the board asking, “Who is going to punish you guys, if you allow these children who are negative, tested twice - to participate in a sport. When you’re allowing them to be in school and allowing them to participate in PE.”
Kline addressed Gilton stating that if there was a positive case as a result of the restriction, the district would open itself up for a lawsuit.
Gilton interjected he would sign a waiver, to which Kline stated, “We have looked at all the avenues and once again, that’s not a possibility for us.”
Shatswell wrapped up the opening portion of the meeting, including Public Comment lasting close to one hour by noting the issues would be discussed by the board and addressed at a future meeting.
“I want you guys to know, we are hearing what you’re saying. We are hearing what the concerns are for the parent,” she stated. “We will follow up on it.”
Additional general business which was on the agenda was addressed including: Nutritional Standards of School lunches; approval of financial reports and approval of provision of sufficient textbook materials.
The next meeting will be hosted on Monday, Oct. 11. Public session will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the OJUSD Tech Center.