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Spokane Valley anti-mask protest erupts after Inslee’s new COVID-19 mandates: ‘When is this going to end?’

Aug. 18, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 19, 2021 at 11:40 a.m.

Only a few weeks ago, families and educators were looking forward to some semblance of normalcy in the upcoming school year.

Masks were off, the coronavirus was in retreat and people were getting vaccinated.

But by Wednesday, circumstances had changed so much that Gov. Jay Inslee issued a mandate requiring vaccinations for most school employees, and announced the state would also be requiring masks again in many public settings starting next week.

Several dozen people rallied in response outside the Central Valley School District offices, chanting “no more masks” and asking for choice.

Holding a sign that read “Let Our Kids Breathe,” CV parent Shannon Castelda recalled the disappointment of last year. A former teacher, Castelda managed to home school her three children.

But when her oldest went to high school last spring, “it was extremely disappointing,” Castelda said of the mask requirement.

A few feet away, Stacey Miller stood with her two young children and wished that the district allow parental choice over masks.

Reminded that State Superintendent Chris Reykdal has threatened to cut funding for any district that defies the mask mandate, Miller offered another idea.

“The state Legislature needs to have an emergency session and end the mandate,” Miller said. “When is this going to end?”

The day began with a petition signed by the superintendents of 43 school districts, requesting reconsideration of a statewide school mask mandate issued last month.

Representing mostly rural counties in Eastern Washington, the superintendents sought some relief from the one-size-fits-all mask requirement.

“This will provide hope for our students and will give our communities a goal to rally around,” the petition read in part.

It asked for two things: More information and acknowledgment on the social-emotional impact of mask mandates; and the creation of local metrics and some measure of autonomy on mask requirements.

But Inslee has doubled down on efforts to stem the surging delta variant of COVID-19. Not only will the in-school mask mandate remain, most school employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

The vaccine requirement extends to public and private K-12 schools, most childcare and early learning centers. It includes school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities.

Exemptions will be allowed on medical and religious grounds.

As other parents waved American flags and cheered to cars passing on I-90, Jennifer Richey pondered her choices for her high school-aged son.

The Idaho border was just a few miles away.

“I might send him to a private school in Idaho,” she said. “But I just wish this district would get a spine.”

Reykdal addressed those frustrations during a Wednesday news conference.

“Your local school board is not making this decision, whether it’s masks or vaccines,” Reykdal said. “Please take your respectful civil discourse where it belongs. Your local school board is not that place. They need to run schools, and that criticism can come our way.”

The state teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association, backed the mandate.

In a statement issued shortly after the press conference, WEA President Larry Delaney said that “We look forward to welcoming our students back in person this fall but to make that sustainable we must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of COVID transmission in our schools.”

“Vaccines are a safe and effective tool to reduce COVID transmission,” Delaney added. “By vaccinating staff we reduce the possibility of infecting those who cannot be vaccinated, including our students under 12 years old. WEA calls on everyone who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The region’s largest district, Spokane Public Schools, said in a statement that it will “continue to follow all public health guidelines and recognize legal mandates outlined by the Governor.

“We are moving forward with our plan to start school with full-time in person instruction,” the statement said.

The district also said that employees who are not fully vaccinated may continue working as they “take steps to get vaccinated or verify their religious or medical exemption prior to the October 18 deadline.”

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