Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Superintendents urge end to mask mandate in schools

Mead High School students wait to enter the building in a socially distanced line on the first day of school on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 in Spokane, Wash.   (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

More than 40 public school superintendents from across Eastern Washington have signed a letter to state leaders urging “substantial relaxation” of the current safety protocols, including the mask mandate.

The letter was sent Tuesday to Gov. Jay Inslee, Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah and State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. It precedes Inslee’s news conference on Thursday when he is expected to announce if and when he will lift the indoor mask mandate.

Reykdal announced on Wednesday he will join Inlsee’s press conference.

The outdoor mask mandate ends Friday.

The letter comes on the heels of anti-mask initiatives by school boards in Kettle Falls and Richland, both of which were met with warning letters from Reykdal.

The superintendents’ letter urges the state to “first and foremost, end the mandatory mask mandate,” and to move responsibilities for contact tracing to the state Department of Health and away from individual districts.

It was signed by most superintendents in Eastern Washington, including Shawn Woodward at Mead, but not by those at Spokane Public Schools, Central Valley and West Valley.

The letter continued: “Now in the last half of the 2021-22 school year, we believe there is urgent need to address our students’ social and emotional well-being, as well as our school district staff’s fatigue with implementing the burdensome protocols, as the parents and families of our students have grown increasingly weary, and vocally critical of them.”

The letter closed with an appeal to consider the “exceptional psychological and social toll on our entire communities” of the COVID-19 pandemic and its constraints on learning.

“We are particularly concerned that the mental health of our students, their families, and our staff is such that relief from the restrictions we have strived to follow with fidelity, is needed.”

The letter noted that as other states are lifting many pandemic restrictions, “the pressure has built that we do the same.”

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Francisco offered a reminder Wednesday that risk of transmission is still relatively high. And while Spokane County’s COVID cases and hospitalizations are on a downward trend, “there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.

Velázquez also noted that masks are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials have focused on hospitalization figures to determine when regulations can be relaxed. In the Inland Northwest, COVID hospitalizations have come down off the peak, but they are currently plateaued.

There are 178 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in Spokane County, including seven pediatric hospitalizations.

The omicron wave has hit children and teens harder than previous variant waves. This group is the least protected by vaccines in the county.

In Spokane County, just 22% of 5 to 11 year-olds have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 45% of 12 to 17 year-olds in the county have received at least one dose.