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

A new type of ‘back to school’: Masks are optional in Spokane classrooms starting Monday

Masked students race up the stairs of the brand-new Shaw Middle School building on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year on Thursday, Sept. 2. School districts in Washington, not the state, will be able to decide going forward whether students should wear masks in the classroom, and classrooms in Spokane will be mask-optional starting Monday.   (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

Expect to see a lot of smiles on Monday at every school in Spokane County.

It’s been almost exactly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic chased kids out of the classroom and one year since most of them came back part time, though with their faces covered.

That will change on Monday morning, when masks become optional and the classroom experience will finally return to something close to normal.

“Monday will definitely be a big step after two years of having masks required, and I know that many of our staff and students are looking forward to this,” Adam Swinyard, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, said Friday.

Masks are coming off thanks partly to plummeting COVID numbers in recent weeks. In Spokane County schools this week, metrics hit their lowest point in almost two years.

As of Friday, the eight largest districts in the county reported a combined 97 cases. That’s down from about 200 a week ago and represents a tiny fraction of the more than 3,000 positive tests during the height of the omicron surge in mid-January.

The area’s largest district, Spokane County Schools, reported on Friday that 28 students and staff with a confirmed case of COVID-19 entered a school building in the previous five school days.

Central Valley reported 21 positive cases in the previous 10 days, while Mead had 24 in the same period.

In a letter sent to families late Friday afternoon, Spokane confirmed that beginning Saturday, masks will be optional in school buildings and buses (except in student health care and COVID-19 isolation rooms).

In addition, masks will be optional for all curricular, cocurricular and extracurricular performance art activities, and contract tracing will end.

However, families must continue to fill out the COVID-19 reporting form to report symptoms; and the district is required to report COVID-19 cases to the Department of Health and Spokane Regional Health District.

The district will maintain its mitigation efforts around cleaning protocols and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

“We will maximize distance when possible,” SPS spokesperson Sandra Jarrard said in an email.

Unlike most districts, Central Valley School District will enforce social distancing at 3 feet whenever possible. Mead says it won’t require social distancing, but students who want to should let their teachers know.

All districts acknowledged that the changes come too late for some and too soon for others.

“Please remember that many in our school community will choose to continue wearing masks for various personal reasons,” the SPS letter continued. “We ask that SPS staff, students, and families kindly respect everyone’s decision.”