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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Colville board ends defiance on masks; superintendent resigns

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 25, 2022

Steve Fisk, shown at North Central High School in 2018 when he served as principal at that school, has resigned from his post as superintendent of the Colville School District.   (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Steve Fisk, shown at North Central High School in 2018 when he served as principal at that school, has resigned from his post as superintendent of the Colville School District.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Capping a tumultuous week, the Colville School Board voted Friday afternoon to end its defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate, then accepted the resignation of first-year Superintendent Steve Fisk.

When classes resume on Monday, all students will again be required to wear masks until the mandate is lifted on March 21.

By then, the district also will have a new leader. Following the masking decision, the board went into executive session, then emerged 20 minutes later with news that Fisk had earlier approached the board with a resignation and transition plan.

In a unanimous vote, the board accepted the transition plan and announced that it will take effect immediately.

Several board members thanked Fisk for his service before President Joe Fazzari announced that Colville High School Principal Kevin Knight would step in as interim superintendent through June 30.

Fisk said he had approached the board earlier this week with the transition plan.

“I’m very grateful that they accepted it,” Fisk told The Spokesman-Review.

“I want to stress that this was in no way a situation where (the board) forced me out.”

Fisk declined to comment on the controversy over masking students.

“COVID is an extremely difficult circumstance for everyone, and for me professionally, I needed to take some next steps for myself and move forward,” Fisk said.

Formerly the principal of Spokane’s North Central High School, Fisk was hired at Colville last summer.

Colville’s action on masks followed a similar decision a day earlier by the Kettle Falls School Board.

In both instances, the threat of serious fines persuaded the boards to rescind earlier decisions to make mask-wearing optional for students.

“The last thing I want to do is cripple this district,” board member Joseph Schweitzer said after the 3-1 vote.

Fazzari concurred, expressing fears that defiance would “literally have our schools fined into closure.”

Fazzari termed Inslee’s enforcement of the mandate “heavy-handed.”

He urged citizens to reach out to elected officials to express their displeasure.

The harshest criticism came from board member Robert Gumm, who compared Inslee to the leaders of Nazi Germany and Communist China.

“His actions are shameful,” said Gumm, who abstained from the vote.

Earlier in the meeting, Fisk recapped the developments dating back to the Feb. 17 decision.

A day later, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry sent a letter giving the district four more days to comply with the mandate.

“We responded and outlined our mitigation strategies,” said Fisk, who added that on Wednesday, officials from L&I replied “that our response to the complaint was not satisfactory.”

Noting that daily fines would total at least $153,000 per day and possibly much higher, Fisk said the penalties “have the potential to financially cripple our school district for years to come.”

Fisk recommended that the mask-optional decision be rescinded.

In a letter to families posted after the decision, Fisk stated that “at this time, the road ahead, if we choose to continue to make masks optional, would be incredibly detrimental to our schools, staff, students, and community.

“Recurring findings over the next three weeks could be financially devastating to our schools. I know this is not the news that any of us wanted to hear. At this time, more than any other, we need to join together to work through this challenge.”

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