Dozens protest Fern Ridge School District as state vaccine mandate takes effect

Dozens of community members held signs and chanted outside district offices on Territorial Highway against mandates and mask requirements.

Posted: Oct 18, 2021 11:30 AM
Updated: Oct 18, 2021 11:38 AM

ELMIRA, Ore. -- Some parents and students in the Fern Ridge School District are throwing support behind educators and support staff who are off-the-job after refusing a coronavirus vaccine by the state deadline of Oct. 18.

Dozens of community members held signs and chanted outside district offices on Territorial Highway against mandates and mask requirements on Monday morning. Protesters also created about a dozen cardboard cut-outs to represent the employees who were placed on unpaid leave.

“Any staff member that filed for - whether it be medical or religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination - has now been placed on unpaid leave, leaving our schools that were already understaffed in dire straits,” said Amanda White-Wallace, a parent to two students in the district.

Gary Carpenter, Fern Ridge superintendent, confirmed about 13 staff members are on unpaid leave as of Monday. Carpenter said accusations that the district blindly denied religious exemptions are untrue. In fact, he said all religious exemption requests that they received were approved. The district worked with affected employees to talk about shifting work hours and weekly testing options. Still, some ended up on unpaid leave when other accommodations failed. Carpenter said about 98% of the district’s 80 teachers are vaccinated.

According to parents, the employees on unpaid leave include teachers, instructional assistants, custodians and transportation workers.

White-Wallace said she can’t volunteer at her children’s schools anymore because of her vaccine status.

“They're making it to the point that parents like myself who volunteer regularly in our district are not able to access campuses because of a personal medical decision,” White-Wallace said.

Carpenter said he is simply following the state rules, which require him to provide a safe environment from COVID-19.

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