OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – Local charter school Santa Fe South officials said that starting August 12th, the school will require all students and staff to wear masks inside the school, becoming the first school in the state to go against Oklahoma’s law prohibiting mask mandates.
“The evidence is clear that the Delta variant is really starting to ravage our population,” said Superintendent Chris Brewster.
Brewster said since classes started a couple weeks ago, around three classrooms have already been exposed to COVID-19.
“I believe 21 cases as of this morning from faculty and staff, since we started on the 29th, that were either COVID positive or exposure to those who were unvaccinated,” said the superintendent. “We feel like it’s just the beginning likely of what we’re going to be dealing with this next upswing in the pandemic.”
Superintendent Brewster said he’s trying to look out for the immunocomprised community, including students on specialized plans who have a hard time learning from home.
“If I can add a single layer that’s as simple as this to protect that group, then we do believe it’s in the best interest of our school,” he said.
The superintendent said the strictly-enforced mask requirement will also apply for all guests on campus and at all activities and events. Students or parents who refuse will be offered the opportunity to receive online instruction.
Brewster said there are exceptions to the rule.
“If you have an exemption based on either a medical professional’s advice, a religious or personal exemption, you can opt out of the masks if necessary,” he said.
However, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, who helped author the law against mask and vaccine mandates in schools, said the law is firmly against such mandates.
“The law is clear. We’re not going to be mandating masks in the public schools,” said West.
But could a school face penalties if it enforces a mask mandate?
“The bill did not have anything in there for penalties,” said the representative. “From what I’ve been told they would at least be open to possible civil suit.”
“I certainly have to be prepared for that to take place if it does,” said Brewster.
The superintendent, a registered Republican, said his decision does not come with a political agenda.
“[I] believe very much in local control as an important thing. This is something I believe is an obligation as something that weighs heavily as a responsibility to my community,” he said.
Brewster also said he believes other districts will soon be in the same boat.
“I anticipate school boards, leaders, superintendents are going to feel tremendous pressure as they encounter, potentially, the Delta variant in their communities,” said Superintendent Brewster.
In a statement to KFOR News, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the State Department of Education recognizes “that the safety and well-being of children and staff should be the top priority for all Oklahoma district leaders and school boards. At the same time, we expect all schools to comply with state laws currently in effect.”