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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘An end in sight’: Area students, school districts are hopeful but cautious as the end to Washington’s mask mandate nears

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 18, 2022

Students greet each other on the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Regal Elementary School on Sept. 2. The state’s mask mandate for many settings is ending March 21.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)
Students greet each other on the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Regal Elementary School on Sept. 2. The state’s mask mandate for many settings is ending March 21. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

Educators and students in the Spokane area expressed relief Thursday that the state’s longstanding mask mandate is coming to an end.

After Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the mandate would be lifted on March 21, leaders in Spokane County’s three largest school districts urged families to stay the course.

At the same time, they acknowledged that for some, the March 21 date is too soon; and for others, not soon enough.

“The announcement gives our students, parents and staff a timeline for the change to a mask-optional choice,” Mead Superintendent Shawn Woodward said in a statement.

“We understand that this change in how our schools are operating will be met with differing opinions and responses, and we will work with our students and staff to ensure a smooth transition,” Woodward said.

The county’s largest district, Spokane Public Schools, issued a letter to families thanking them for their “patience and support as we continue to navigate the many challenges and changes that have occurred throughout the pandemic.”

The letter also asked students and staff to continue to follow health and safety protocols, and stressed that the district will continue to follow the guidance of public health officials and will provide updates to staff and families whenever changes are made.

Students were taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” said Louis Andon Webster, a junior at Shadle Park High School. “I guess we’ll see if the numbers go down or not.”

One of Webster’s classmates, Connor Bayless, worried that the March 21 date may be a tad too early. “I don’t think they’ll be necessary for the rest of the year, but people are still getting sick right now.”

At Gonzaga Preparatory School, junior Grace Warne, who is Asian American, said she was “still afraid and vulnerable to Asian hate and COVID-19 jokes.”

“However, I’m lucky to be in a welcoming school environment, so I hope that enough people have been vaccinated/have built immunity, so we can genuinely get back to what makes school enjoyable and most importantly, keep loved ones alive ,” Warne said.

During Thursday’s announcement, both Inslee and state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal noted that some districts have renounced the mask mandate. Both urged the rest to be patient, but also gave them the option to maintain mask requirements past March 21.

However, on Thursday, none of the districts said they would deviate from the March 21 date.

Ben Small, superintendent at Central Valley, noted that the date “may be too soon for some and too late for others, we are glad we have an end in sight for the mask mandate.”

“We will continue to work with Spokane Regional Health District on safety precautions and mitigations for our schools,” Small said in a statement.

Larry Delaney, president of the state teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association, said the organization was pleased that the March 21 date will give districts “adequate time to anticipate issues with staffing adequacy and inequities along with mask access for those who want them.”

Delaney also urged the Legislature to created an “adequate leave pool for those who may become ill or may have to quarantine.”

Correspondents Jordan Tolley-Turner and Sophia McFarland contributed to this article.

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