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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Anti-mask crowd gathers at Spokane School Board meeting as another year of covered faces in class approaches

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

They brought signs. Some even brought their children.

Mostly, the 200 attendees who packed Wednesday night’s board meeting of Spokane Public Schools brought their frustration over the prospect of their children being forced to wear masks when they return to class next month.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate requiring students and staff wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19 may have given political cover to Spokane and other districts, but Wednesday’s speakers didn’t care.

“Our governor is a buffoon, and I’m tired of having my children exhausted by wearing a mask,” one man said.

Speakers talked about the effects on their children’s emotional, physical and academic well-being, and demanded parental choice when school begins on Sept. 2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, has recommended masks even for fully vaccinated people in some settings because of the rise of the highly contagious delta variant.

“We need your help, not your opposition,” said Russell Neff, who spoke of the ill effects of masks on his 14-year-old daughter. “This is what you were elected to do: support parents and students who are the real stakeholders.”

Another parent, Marshall Casey, recalled his family’s decision to home school their children because of lack of educational supports during the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we have resources, but others don’t have the resources” to pull their students, said Casey, who closed with a rebuke of the current board.

“Over this last year, you have shown yourself not to be trustworthy,” Casey said.

Like other anti-mask speakers, Casey received applause. Two speakers weighed in with pro-mask comments, and were received with derisive words from the crowd.

Public testimony was followed by a back-to-school report reiterating the requirement for staff and students to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Core reopening strategies include a focus on reduced class sizes, social and emotional learning supports, intervention services and supports, lesson planning and individual school equity staffing.

Students may remove their masks while eating or when outdoors. Also, according to language in the plan, “While schools should continue to … promote social distancing, it cannot be a reason to limit in-person instruction.”

Guidelines for lunch, performing arts and athletics are being evaluated. Contact tracing and testing will be available.

Following a recap of the back-to-school plan, Superintendent Adam Swinyard reiterated the impact of Inlsee’s mandate. He emphasized the message from state superintendent Chris Reykdal, who has threatened to cut funding for any district that defies the mandate.

“OSPI has been very explicit on that,” he said. “That’s the money we receive.”

At that point, an audience member interjected.

“How much do you lose if we pull our kids?” the man asked. Swinyard countered with an offer to speak with him after the meeting.

“All of this is unprecedented in every way, shape and form,” said Swinyard, who said earlier this summer he had hoped area vaccination status might have given the district more leeway on masks.

Instead, the rise of the delta variant ended that hope.