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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lutz set the tone for school reopening in Spokane County

Oct. 30, 2020 Updated Fri., Oct. 30, 2020 at 9:32 p.m.

Spokane Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz at a news conference earlier this year.  (SSR)
Spokane Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz at a news conference earlier this year. (SSR)

As Spokane County school districts considered their options for the fall, it was Dr. Bob Lutz who led the conversation.

“I fully expect to see cases and likely outbreaks,” Lutz said in August as he issued a “strong recommendation” that schools begin the year with distance learning only.

Not everyone listened – Mead, East Valley and several smaller districts adopted hybrid models – but the two largest districts, Spokane and Central Valley, have followed his advice almost to the letter.

Despite some disagreements with Lutz, superintendents representing 17 school districts in Spokane County – serving nearly all the public school students in the county – issued a strong statement of support on Friday for Lutz’s work.

“As superintendents of the public school districts in Spokane County, we have each sincerely appreciated the thoughtful guidance and generous time Dr. Bob Lutz (and others on the Spokane Regional Health District team) has provided us throughout the ongoing pandemic,” the statement said. “Decisions that have been made have not been easy or uncomplicated, for any of us nor for Dr. Lutz and other public health professionals. Yet, he has leaned in with us and collaborated as we have strived to make the best decisions possible for our students and district communities, and for the larger regional community we share.”

Adam Swinyard, superintendent at Spokane Public Schools, who was one of the signers of that letter, said he had frequent conversations with Lutz and the district’s chief epidemiologist Mark Springer.

“He’s always been very accessible,” Swinyard said Friday. “Following the advice of health officials has always been our plan.”

Lutz also was in close contact with universities about their re-opening plans.

Beck Taylor, Whitworth’s president, questioned Lutz’s ouster Friday after noting that Whitworth reported no COVID-19 cases for the second week in a row.

“ I attribute much of our success to Dr. Bob Lutz of {a class=”c-link” href=”” rel=”noopener noreferrer” target=”_blank” data-stringify-link=”” data-sk=”tooltip_parent”}@spokanehealth{/a}, who was inexplicably asked to step down by his board. My head is spinning. Doesn’t make sense,” Taylor said in a tweet.

Lutz was criticized by families who wanted Spokane and Central Valley to reopen to all grades. A parent group, Open Spokane Schools, twice held rallies outside his office and urged his ouster.

Lutz also clashed with the school board at Mead, which failed to submit a reopening plan with the health district before adopting its hybrid model.

Mead board President Carmen Green acknowledged as much in September.

Recalling past conversations, Green said Lutz “is willing to work with us … but he’s not happy with our decision.”

However, Lutz supported and encouraged Spokane and Central Valley as they reopened buildings last month to kindergartners and first-graders.

“None of us feels comfortable pivoting too quickly,” Lutz said in late September. However, he acknowledged that “our guidance for opening schools has been a balancing act.”

“On one hand we are ensuring the health and well-being of our community, and on the other we have to care for the mental wellness and address academic disparities among students – especially for our youngest learners,” Lutz said.

As Lutz predicted in August, the go-slow approach resulted in a far lower incidence of COVID at Spokane, Central Valley, Cheney and West Valley, all of which opened the year with distance learning only.

With a combined enrollment of about 55,000, the four districts on Thursday reported a total of 51 positive tests in the last 14 days, with about 260 people currently in quarantine.

Mead, with an enrollment of about 11,000, currently has 22 individuals with positive tests, resulting in 184 people in quarantine.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland districts – combined enrollment 19,000 – have about 130 current cases after operating in blended and full in-person models.

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