Schools, educators and parents torn on state’s mask mandate removal in class

MEAD, Wash. – For the first time in almost two years, teachers will be able to see students’ smiles again. Governor Jay Inslee said he will soon remove the mask mandate in schools.

There are still quite a few unanswered questions as everyone waits for that announcement next week.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Inslee said the decision could be up to local health districts. If local health leaders decide to recommend or require masks, it could even fall on the shoulders of school board members.

Masks have been required in schools since the fall of 2020.

“We’re past where it’s uncomfortable. They’re just used to wearing them now. Now, it’s just a matter of – is it really necessary?” asked Angela Cavalar, a mom of two students.

She doesn’t believe masks should be required in schools anymore, thinking it should be a local decision. Cavalar said it’s at the point during the pandemic where people have the information they need as well as the tools to make their own choice.

“We have enough underneath our belt now that it’s time to remove the blatant, flat, everybody has to wear a mask,” she said.

Randy Russell, the superintendent of the Freeman School District, echoes Cavalar’s sentiments. He says decisions should be made at the local level, too.

“I think how things look in Spokane is probably different than things in the Tri-Cities or Seattle, so they should be dealt with differently,” said Russell.

Russell believes it’s “overdue” that the mask mandate be removed. He felt the mask mandate should’ve been optional from the start of the 2021/22 school year.

As a superintendent, he feels it’s a bit frustrating to go to grocery stores, churches or anywhere else and see people not wearing masks and no one enforcing them.

“To be at a school district and be one of the few organizations that is really enforcing the masks, you can imagine the pressure that comes with that and what that’s like to be one of the few entities requiring it,” he said.

He said he held out hope this day would come, though we don’t know exactly when the mask mandate will be lifted in schools.

Caitlin Tumlinson, the Nine Mile Falls Education Association president, says teachers are split about the mask mandate being removed, too.

“We have teachers, staff, community members that are very excited about the possibility because this has been a couple of years,” said Tumlinson. “There are some students that I’ve had for the last two years that I’ve never seen their whole face. On one side, it’s possible exciting news that’s coming down the pipeline and on the other side, we do have staff who do consider COVID-19 to be a risk to their health.”

Mead mom Mellie Price thinks it’s still too soon for the masks to come off in schools, saying she’s seen the effects of COVID-19 and saw people who lost their loved ones because of it.

“She wants to do her part in keeping herself safe and others safe,” Price said of her daughter continuing to wear a mask.

While she is cautious, Price knows the masks will come off eventually. She doesn’t know when the right time will be.

“I don’t know what I don’t know but right now, it doesn’t feel right. She will continue to mask until we get to a place where it doesn’t feel like everyone’s sick all the time and the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed,” she said.

Tumlinson believes it needs to be a thoughtful process before the mask mandate is removed.

“We need to have a clear plan of action for if there is another variant that causes another outbreak or if things start going the wrong direction at a community level, is that going to be left to local control? Are we looking at the possibility of another mandate?” she questioned.

Governor Inslee said he has to look at more data before deciding exactly when the mask mandate will be lifted. He plans to announce a date next week.

Spokane Public Schools said it will continue to follow public health official guidance.

Here’s what other school districts in Eastern Washington said about Inslee’s announcement:

Mead School District:

“As we heard yesterday, Governor Inslee said he will have more information next week regarding the mask mandate. We look forward to when masks are optional so that our parents and families can decide what is best for them. Overall, the pandemic has taken a toll on our students, and returning to more normalcy will make a positive difference in their social and emotional well-being.”

Central Valley School District:

“We await the Governor’s announcement, hopefully early next week so that we can move forward accordingly. While we continue to keep the health and safety of our students and staff as our priority, we are encouraged by the downward trend in positive cases in our community and are hopeful that the trend will carry onward.”

West Valley School District:

“As you are aware we will continue to follow the Department of Health and our Local Health Jurisdiction guidance as it relates to COVID and our mitigation strategies.  I am hopeful however that we will receive information next week that will create a timeline for reducing some of our mitigation measures.  We are hearing that mask wearing and contact tracing could be included in the updated guidance that could be out next week.
We will continue to update our staff, students, and families when these updates are communicated.”

East Valley School District:

“The very topic of masking is incredibly polarizing as there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate. That shared, Superintendent Reykdal’s message earlier this week provided a glimmer of optimism moving forward. As we await the official word from the Governor’s office, for the first time in a long time, I feel a bit of hope for schools to become more normal than they have been in two years. As they say, the devil will be in the details.
At some point, we all have to recognize the pandemic as an endemic. Vaccinations are available to anyone who wants them and frankly, some people won’t partake in that no matter how much those in positions of power want them to get it.  In my humble opinion, it is time for those who wish to remove their masks to be able to do so; those who wish to wear a mask should be able to do that as well. As I venture out and about, it seems to me that this has already occurred in every place except for schools.”

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