OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (Free Press) — Chris Brewster, the founding superintendent of Santa Fe South Charter Schools in Oklahoma City defied the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Kevin Stitt by instituting a mask mandate Wednesday.
The announcement was made by an open letter sent directly to parents and posted on the district’s website.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 658 during the last session that prohibits school districts from requiring COVID immunizations and enforcing mask mandates, two widely and scientifically accepted means of containing the spread of the disease. Stitt quickly signed it into law and now has refused to declare an emergency which would trigger suspending the law for a designated time.
“I am very supportive of my governor,” Brewster told Free Press by phone. “I am a registered Republican who voted for him and align with him in the vast majority of areas, as do I do with most of those on the conservative side of the agenda.”
“In this particular case, I think we may have a difference of opinion,” Brewster said.
In bold print at the top of the letter the expectations about masks are made clear:
“As of Thursday, August 12, masks will be required of all students and staff while at school or at school related activities, whenever indoors and in close contact (3-5 feet for more than 15 minutes.)”
Brewster said that he was vaccinated as soon as he could get the shots and wears a mask any time he is in close proximity to anyone to keep from giving COVID to someone who may not be vaccinated.
The letter strongly recommends getting vaccinated but does not make it a requirement.
In an open letter to parents and students posted on the school’s website, Brewster cited the difficulty of sorting out all of the different messages people are receiving about the pandemic and precautions like vaccines and masks.
“I personally appreciate how difficult it is, sometimes, to ignore the impact of social media,
personal biases, and limited/false information that floods our lives,” wrote Brewster.
“I pledge to you that I will strive to only make decisions that are based on the recommendations of healthcare officials and in line with the science that directs these decisions.”
A key point both in the letter and in our conversation with Brewster were the students and teachers they have who are “immune-compromised” and “must be protected.”
He said that he is prepared to have conversations with parents who may have objections or questions about the decision.
But, in the end, he is there to guard the health and safety of his students.
Brewster told us that the students with special needs were the ones that he was most concerned about.
“We have immunocompromised students and staff whose normal physical conditions make them highly susceptible to things like COVID, in particular, the damage that COVID could do to some of these kiddos,” he said.
“I was frankly thinking very specifically about two of our kids who have Down Syndrome in our Special Ed Department who are immunocompromised, who were exposed recently,” said Brewster. “And, I just can’t stomach that idea.”
“I really do believe that if this keeps just one of our folks from being sick among the 1000s in our district, then it’s going to be worthwhile.”
Brewster said that he appreciated the struggle that “well-meaning” legislators have had in discerning the best approach to the pandemic. But, he thinks the best place for decisions like this is at the local level.
“There’s no question in my mind that it is now in the best interests of the community I serve, to make this decision,” he told us.
“And I do believe that this decision should lie at the community level with boards and leadership in each community.”
The letter spells out the expectations:
- Everyone will wear a mask except for those who have documentation from a physician stating that wearing a mask in not recommended for that individual.
- Quarantining procedures are being developed for those who have been exposed following CDC/OCCHD guideline requirements.
- Unvaccinated individuals who are were in close contact and exposed will be expected to quarantine for 10 days with provisions for testing and coming back sooner
- Vaccinated individuals who have been exposed will not be required to quarantine but are expected to test three to five days after exposure.
Brewster was clear about whose responsibility it is to protect the students.
“This is a very clear means, according to health authorities, of increasing protection, for those that I feel very responsible for,” Brewster told Free Press.
In the letter, he also emphasized his larger responsibility to the students and teachers.
“I have carefully considered the ramifications of both requiring masks and in not requiring them. I am
aware that I am personally responsible for either decision,” Brewster said.
“If this decision keeps a single member of our community from suffering serious health issues or death, it
is worth it a thousand times over.”
Last Updated August 11, 2021, 6:28 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor