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Eastern Oregon School Superintendent Loses Job Obeying State Mask Mandate

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown reinstituted the mask mandate when it became apparent the COVID-19 Delta variant had infiltrated the state. School districts are expected to comply. However, in Adrian, Oregon, the divide among rules followers and rebels was great enough for one of the superintendents to be fired after adamantly pushing his district to mandate masks. After a short meeting, the board announced  Kevin Purnell’s termination, according to KGW 8 News, on August 31, 2021.

The school board convened a special executive closed-door meeting on Monday night to determine Purnell’s further employment. In a 4-1 vote, the board ousted the superintendent of three years. Board Chair Eddie Kincade explained Purnell was fired because he failed to comply with board directives but declined to elaborate.

Board members Kincade, Bobby David, Ryan Martin, and Quinten Shenk voted to terminate Pernell. Eric White opposed the motion. Afterward, Pernell gave an emotional speech to the crowd saying he failed to communicate well at times. He added the board neglected civility in their communication.

OregonThe problems between the superintendent and the board emerged as the COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Oregon county increased, as did the opposition to Gov. Brown’s mask mandates.

Purnell says he opposes the government mandating mask-wearing. Nonetheless, people said he has a reputation for being a rule follower and would enforce Oregon law.

Oregon’s mask mandate applies to everyone five and older must wear them in and out of doors when unable to maintain a safe distance or when it is impractical — eating, swimming, playing sports, singing, etc.

Purnell has worked as an educator for 37 years. Of those, he spent 18 years as an administrator. Based on the energetic defense of the community, he is respected.

Malheur Education Service District STEM Coordinator Nickie Shira spoke of his being one of the best superintendents in the county. However, she expressed sadness that he was dismissed:

Beyond mask mandates, there’s a lot to running the school, to leading the staff and being an administrator. And Mr. Purnell is a man of integrity and ethical leadership.

Eric Ellis explained his feelings over Purnell’s firing:

We say that an outcome of education at Adrian is to produce good citizens. To achieve that, our children must be led by honorable and moral leaders. Dismissing Mr. Purnell would send the exact opposite message – that we want only educational leaders who lead when it is convenient and non-controversial, and in accordance with the short-term passions of the vocal minority.

In earlier board meetings, Eastern Oregon residents discussed the subject of masking with some who opposed the state’s infringement of their rights. However, Associated Student Body President Elizabeth Nielson eloquently stated her feeling on the matter:

I’m a senior this year at Adrian and I don’t really care what it takes. Being online in school was not good. And if it means doing something I don’t want to do, because I don’t want to wear a mask, I’ll do what it takes.

Other school superintendents in Oregon have expressed anger over Gov. Brown’s mandates, including the requirement of indoor masking. However, even though Vale and Nyssa county districts have publically denounced Oregon’s rules, the districts have complied.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

KGW8 NBC News: School district in Eastern Oregon fires superintendent for obeying state’s mask mandate; by Liliana Frankel
FOX 12 News: Time to cover up again, Oregon: Mask mandate back in action Friday for ages 5+

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Cathy Milne-Ware
Inset Image Courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation – Creative Commons License

Cathy Milne-Ware is the Editor-in-Chief for Frackle Media and lead instructor for St. Agatha's News School. She enjoys helping youth discover their unlocked potential and helping them find their voice. As an instructor, her goal is to teach them the power of words and develop strategies that will serve them in the future by teaching effective communication skills including critical thinking and a sense of belonging. Cathy strives to be an advocate and mentor for each intern.

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