Colville Schools superintendent to work with state as it receives first notice for violating mask mandate

COLVILLE, Wash. – The Colville School Board voted on Thursday to make masks optional for students only, four weeks ahead of Governor Jay Inslee’s mask mandate ending.

School board director Dr. Robert Gumm told 4 News Now on Friday that he wanted to give students “more time to breathe,” instead of waiting for the mandate to lift on March 21.

However, Gumm said they will “walk back” the decision “if they have to.”

“We’re going to do whatever is best for our students, and we’re going to try and keep them free from our masks for as long as we can without financially crippling the district,” said Gumm.

The board only made masks optional for students, not staff.

RELATED: Colville School District Board of Directors votes to make masks optional for students

Steve Fisk, the superintendent of the Colville School District, said they didn’t want to put staff in a position to violate the law.

He said he had been talking with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries to see what the potential impacts are in making masks optional. Fisk said he’s talked with L&I multiple times throughout the school year, making sure that staff and students are safe in schools.

“I conferenced with them on what the potential challenges could be with it and I think that’s just being due diligent and understanding all the variables around you and working proactively is how I see it,” said Fisk. “We want everybody safe, and we want to do it as safely as we possibly can, and how you do that is communicate effectively.”

Fisk said they received the first notice from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which means the district has 15 days to comply to the mask mandate. If it doesn’t, it will get a second notice and have only five days to reverse course on the mask decision.

If not, the state could withhold funding from the school district.

Fisk said he has a meeting with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal on Tuesday, and as of now, masks will still be optional for students starting that day.

“I don’t know what all the next steps look like, but we’re going to take them step by step and communicate fervently and work together,” he said working with OSPI.

Regardless, Fisk said the interest is still the safety of students and staff, and they’re trying to figure out what’s next with the school. He says more communication will go out to families as they move forward.

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