Several parents and others from the community expressed worries to the Knappa school board Wednesday evening about a student vaccine mandate to help contain the coronavirus.

Many of the comments were spirited and echoed anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiments, particularly for children, urging the school board to stand up against any potential state guidance requiring vaccines.

School bond

Some parents want the Knappa school board to stand up to any state vaccine mandate for students.

“Let’s act before vaccine mandates come down,” Ashley Meadows, a resident, said. “We risk a massive student exodus and we just passed a huge bond measure. Let’s be sure every child gets to benefit without prejudice.”

Each comment was followed by loud applause from the nearly two dozen people who attended the meeting, many of whom are associated with the Knappa Parents Organization. The group has spoken out in the past over a middle school health curriculum and other topics.

“Our state does it on different topics to the federal government — you can say ‘no.’ We can say ‘no,’” Adam Brown, a resident, said.

A survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center in October showed about 57% of Oregonians support vaccine mandates for children 12 and older. Just 45% of parents support a mandate, however.

A possible student vaccine mandate was added as a discussion item to the agenda in Knappa after a request by school board member Michelle Finn. She said board member Christa Jasper, who was not present at the meeting, felt similarly and also wanted it on the agenda.

Finn said she wanted to tackle the topic after hearing concerns from the community. She said she has heard from some parents that if a student vaccine mandate were adopted, they would pull their children from the school district.

“I know that I have options, but I don’t know if all the parents know they have options and the different options parents have for immunizations and exemptions,” Finn said. “I would like for that to be something that we educate them on if we are going to potentially lose a lot of people if (a coronavirus vaccine) gets added to the immunizations.”

In August, the school board penned a letter to Gov. Kate Brown asking for local control over virus protocols at schools. At Wednesday’s meeting, Ed Johnson, the school board chairman, said that it was difficult to take any action, like they did with the letter, without knowing what was coming in terms of vaccine mandates for students.

Board member Will Isom did not speak during the discussion item, but made a comment about the issue during board member reports near the end of the meeting.

“I firmly believe that within these board meetings, these are business meetings, and we should be sticking to an agenda and every item that we go through, ultimately should lead us to a decision … As a board member, within the meeting, I would like to see more hard information that I can make decisions on versus hypothesizing about what may happen,” he said.

Superintendent Bill Fritz said that at a recent state superintendents meeting, there was talk of potentially adding the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccines for students in the fall, but there are a lot of steps needed in order to make that a reality.

Fritz added he has not heard any discussion about the potential separation of vaccinated and unvaccinated students in different classrooms, like several people mentioned during public comments.

Christopher Morey, the president of the Knappa Parents Organization, said there is an inability for people to have discussions with school board members and hear their feedback during meetings.

“The school board’s role, in my estimation, is to report to the citizens … What I’ve noticed is, there is no mechanism, or at least I don’t see one, where when people like myself and some of the other folks here come up and make a comment or have questions or complaints, that the school board, as a body, is expected to respond to,” he said.

Morey told The Astorian that he and several others in the organization feel there is often a disconnect between the community and the school administration and school board.

In his board member report, Isom empathized with Morey’s concerns about an opportunity for back-and-forth dialogue between the community and the school board, and mentioned a town hall as a possibility.