Eastern Oregon school principal is fired for enforcing mandate for state masks in public schools

An inspector in rural Oregon was fired by his school board during an emotional meeting Monday, amid backlash for upholding Governor Kate Brown’s statewide mandate.

The Adrian School Board held a special behind-the-scenes meeting that ended in Chief Inspector Kevin Purnell’s resignation.

No reason was given for his resignation, but supporters and critics alike said his stance on following the national guideline had put him at odds with the board, the Oregonian reports.

The former Superintendent was described by community members as a “rule follower” who would enforce statewide mask mandates despite his personal opposition.

But some community members had hoped that the local government would fight against the mask mandates.

The session lasted less than half an hour and ended with a 4-1 vote to sack Purnell. He held his position for three years and worked for the district for 14 years.

Board chairman Eddie Kincade said after the meeting that the decision was due to Purnell’s failure to follow board guidelines, but declined to elaborate. Malheur Enterprise reported.

Kevin Purnell, an Oregon superintendent, was fired Monday by the Adrian School Board, presumably over his decision to uphold Governor Kate Brown's mask mandate in schools.

Kevin Purnell, an Oregon superintendent, was fired Monday by the Adrian School Board, presumably over his decision to uphold Governor Kate Brown’s mask mandate in schools.

Community members believe his impeachment was due to following Governor Brown’s mandate.

When the board returned from their private deliberations, Purnell delivered an emotional speech to an equally emotional crowd, according to the Enterprise.

He admitted that there were communication problems between himself and the board and said, “In the end I feel like I’ve lost my way and it started to consume me.”

‘I got tired. Tired of disappointing myself, my family, my friends, my colleagues.’

During public remarks, Adrian resident Paul Shenk said he wanted Purnell to “stand up for the community,” the Enterprise reported.

He acknowledged, “Kevin likes rules,” but said, “What I feel the frustration is that we expect the administrators to advocate for the community,” Shenk said. “You have to work together as inspectors to fight.”

He took an emotional farewell to those in attendance at the Adrian School Board meeting, saying he was tired of “disappointing” himself and his community for a week into the new school year.

The school board did not provide a detailed explanation, but board chairman Eddie Kincade said the decision was due to Purnell's failure to follow the board's directive

The school board did not provide a detailed explanation, but board chairman Eddie Kincade said the decision was due to Purnell's failure to follow the board's directive

The school board did not provide a detailed explanation, but board chairman Eddie Kincade said the decision was due to Purnell’s failure to follow the board’s directive

Purnell’s resignation comes a week into the new school year. The head of state schools, Colt Gill, spoke of mask mandates in schools and the duty of administrators to enforce them.

“We have a shared priority to reliably return students to full-time, personal school this year,” he said, according to the Enterprise.

Face coverings have been proven to slow the spread of COVID-19. I say this knowing that face covering is not the argument. Personal freedom is the argument. But with personal freedom comes responsibility, not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbors.’

At the meeting announcing Purnell’s termination, some community members spoke in support of Purnell and his decision to carry out Governor Brown’s mask mandate.

“I’m a senior at Adrian this year and I don’t really care what it takes,” Elizabeth Nielson, president of the Associated Student Body, said according to the Enterprise.

“Being online at school wasn’t 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.”

Paul Shenk, (pictured center) an Adrian resident, spoke at a public school board meeting and said he wished the school board would fight the mask mandate on behalf of the community

Paul Shenk, (pictured center) an Adrian resident, spoke at a public school board meeting and said he wished the school board would fight the mask mandate on behalf of the community

Paul Shenk, (pictured center) an Adrian resident, spoke at a public school board meeting and said he wished the school board would fight the mask mandate on behalf of the community

Elizabeth Nielson, (pictured) president of the Associated Student Body, addressed the school board and said that although she doesn't want to, she would rather wear a mask than online school

Elizabeth Nielson, (pictured) president of the Associated Student Body, addressed the school board and said that although she doesn't want to, she would rather wear a mask than online school

Elizabeth Nielson, (pictured) president of the Associated Student Body, addressed the school board and said that although she doesn’t want to, she would rather wear a mask than online school

Nickie Shira, STEM Coordinator for the Malheur Education Service District, also defended Purnell: “I know firsthand that Mr. Purnell is one of the best inspectors in the county, and it breaks my heart that we are in this position. ‘

“It’s a shame it’s come to this. But beyond mask mandates, there’s a lot that goes into running the school, leading the staff, and being an administrator. And Mr. Purnell is a man of integrity and ethical leadership,” she said as reported by the Enterprise.

On August 16, Governor Brown published a open letter to commissioners and school administrators who warn that “the highly contagious Delta variant has changed everything.”

She implemented a mandate for indoor masks for public areas and K-12 schools. The governor urged administrators to follow mandates, writing that she has heard a lot about personal freedom but not enough about personal responsibility, acknowledging that some local leaders and community members are urging her to ignore her mandates.

gov. Brown warned: “Bag mask requirements will jeopardize everything we’ve been working towards for the past year.”

Oregon is currently under a high transmission warning. They recently reported 5,545 new cases and 40 recent deaths in a three-day period.

Malheur County, which includes the Adrian School District, is also under a high transmission warning. They reported a total of 292 Covid cases – 146 of which were new in the past week – a 23% increase from the previous week.

The province is reporting an increase in covid cases as more children contract the virus.

Malheur County also has the lowest vaccination rate in the state for the total population, at 33%, according to public data. The national vaccination rate is 61%.

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