Kettle Falls superintendent explains why the district is defying the mask mandate

KETTLE FALLS, Wash. – Masks are no longer required in the Kettle Falls School District–a move that’s going against the state’s mandate.

The Kettle Falls School Board voted 3-0 to make masks optional in the district Monday night.  Two board members abstained from voting.

Within less than 24 hours, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) sent a notice to the district to comply with the mandate otherwise it would withhold state funding.

Kettle Falls School superintendent Michael Olsen said he expected to hear from the state.

OSPI is giving the district until March 2 to comply, otherwise, it will take further steps to withhold funding. It’s possible it could reduce funding to Kettle Falls Schools, too.

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Olsen said the district’s annual budget is around $6.5 million dollars, a combination of the money coming from the federal government, state and local sources.

“We’re in a situation where no school district can absorb losing funds. Really, the timeline OSPI has provided us with is being reviewed in relation to whatever Governor Inslee announces, hopefully, Thursday,” Olsen said.

Last week, Inslee said he’d announce a date this week to lift indoor and school mask mandates. Olsen said the school board was tired of waiting, so it made the change to make masks optional effective immediately.

“You would’ve heard [board director] Brett McKern speak about being tired of being told, you know, ‘There’s a change coming, there’s a change coming, there’s a change coming,’ and that carrot continuing to be dangled out there with no response or with an unsatisfactory response. The school board decided to take action yesterday,” Olsen said.

While Olsen didn’t specifically explain his stance for masks in schools, he says he does support his school board and the community. He said the board has been hearing a lot of feedback from the community about no longer wanting masks and how it affects students’ mental health, their speech and language development, social development and that it is an “infringement on parents’ rights to make choices for their own students.”

Kettle Falls mom Marla Hughes says she was pleased with the board’s decision Monday night. She says her senior doesn’t like wearing masks but did it because she had to.

“It needs to come to an end. It needs to be the children’s choice. If they feel more comfortable with that, that’s okay,” Hughes said.

Since the board made masks optional, Olsen talked with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal twice on Tuesday and is “working with OSPI” through the notices and trying to figure out what’s next. While the future is still unclear, Olsen said Kettle Falls is a “strong community.”

“This topic has been super divisive everywhere. We’re hoping we can move forward and reinvigorate that sense of team within our community,” Olsen said.”They’re our kids, they’re everybody’s kids whether they’re actually a parent or not. If you’re a community member, it takes a village to raise a kid and thankfully our community recognizes that and embraces that.”

READ: Local school district risks losing funding by defying state mask mandate