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Oklahoma Charter School Enacts Mask Mandate, Defying State Law

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Santa Fe South
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Santa Fe South Public Charter School in Oklahoma City is implementing a mask mandate for all students and staff as of Thursday. The move is in direct violation of state law.

Senate Bill 658 prohibits school districts from requiring masks without an emergency order from Gov. Kevin Stitt. He hasn’t issued one yet, and isn't expected to.

Despite that, Santa Fe South’s superintendent Chris Brewster is putting a mask mandate in place. The move appears to be the first such mask mandate in the state following the ban.

"I think there are rare times that we have to consider civil disobedience, and perhaps this is one of those times," said Brewster.

In a letter announcing the decision, Brewster said if it "keeps a single member of our community from suffering serious health issues or death, it is worth it a thousand times over."

Santa Fe South has been open for two weeks. In that time, 21 faculty and staff members have already had to isolate or quarantine because of positive tests or exposures. Additionally, at least two entire classrooms have had to quarantine and there have been many COVID absences.

Brewster said the State Board of Education could revoke his superintendent’s license, or his school board could fire him. But, he’s willing to face those consequences.

"And I recognize both of those entities will have to determine if my decision was correct and act accordingly," said Brewster.

It is unclear at this time what the implications of breaking this law in Oklahoma will be for Santa Fe South and Brewster.

On Wednesday night, The Tulsa World reported Tulsa Public Schools' board discussed potential litigation against the state related to universal masking rules.

The board unanimously passed a resolution saying if state law allowed them to implement a mask mandate, they would, and allowed legal counsel to pursue a lawsuit that would allow universal masking.

Children under the age of 12 cannot get the vaccine yet, and only 16.3 percent of Oklahoma children between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated, according to the latest state epidemiology report.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health will hold a press conference on the pandemic on Friday, their first in more than one month. As of Wednesday, Oklahoma is averaging more than 2,000 new infections per day — levels not seen in the state since early February.

Vaccines are available through many doctors and pharmacies, or you can use the state's appointment portal at vaccinate.ok.gov or the federal vaccine locator at vaccinefinder.org.

Robby Korth joined StateImpact Oklahoma in October 2019, focusing on education reporting.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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