Franklin Connection - Serving Franklin County, WA

By Roger Harnack
Franklin Connection 

Superintendents: End of masks, contact tracing at schools

More than 40 sign letter to Gov. Jay Inslee

 

Last updated 2/16/2022 at 2:49pm



SPOKANE VALLEY – Following the lead of the Kettle Falls and Richland school boards, superintendents from across Northeast Washington sent a letter late Tuesday night, Feb. 15, to Gov. Jay Inslee requesting an end to mask mandates for students, staff and visitors.

The letter was also sent to Dr. Umar Shaw of the state Department of Health and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

“We are writing on behalf of districts in the NEWESD (Northeast Washington Educational Service District) 101 region to encourage you to take immediate action toward substantial relaxation of the current school district safety protocols,” the letter said.

Educational School District No. 101 Superintendent Michael Dunn confirmed the letter was sent to express the reality on school campuses, where parents, students and community leaders are openly refusing to obey the mandate.

According to Dunn, Gov. Inslee, Shaw and Reykdal have yet to respond. However, Gov. Inslee has scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon regarding mask mandates.

At least 40 superintendents signed the letter, telling the governor, “First and foremost, end the mandatory mask mandate.”

“We are almost into the third year of COVID,” Dunn said. “This is a collective interest to express our perspective.”

Dunn said he signed the letter to express the need to mitigate the mental health and other impacts on students, families and employees.

“I’m triple vaxxed. I wear my masks,” he said. “But parents and families are disrupting schools. Some parents and students are saying we are not going to do this anymore.

“At some point, we have to consider is this any longer sustainable.”

The letter also said any contact tracing efforts should be handled by the state Department of Health, rather than school employees, and called the mask and contact tracing requirements “burdensome.”

In the letter, superintendents noted that getting rid of masks will help “students’ social and emotional well-being, as well as our school district staffs’ fatigue.”

Families and students have increasingly rejected masks and tracing are pressuring school employees to end those activities.

“As other states are now lifting many pandemic restrictions, the pressure has built that we do the same,” the letter said. “Again, we strongly encourage that action is taken to ease these restrictions.”

Among the superintendents and school officials who signed onto the letter are Mick Miller and Kassidy Probert of Benge, Rob Roettger of Cheney, Jerry Pugh of Colfax, Jim Kowalkowski of Davenport, Brian Talbott of East Valley (Spokane Valley), Suzanne Schmick of St. John-Endicott, Zane Wells of Garfield, Brett Baum of Rosalia and Great Northern, Wayne Massie of Harrington, Doug Curtis of LaCrosse, Charles Pierce of Lamont, Jerrad Jeske of Liberty (Spangle), Don Vanderholm of Lind-Ritzville, Tim Ames of Medcial Lake, Jake Dingman of Oakesdale, Dan Read of Odessa, Mike Jones of Palouse, Eric Sobotta of Reardan-Edwall, Bill Ressel of Sprague, Eric Patton of Steptoe, John Cordell of Tekoa, Rob Clark of Washtucna and Dunn, among others.

Talbott previously said the “very topic of masking is incredibly polarizing as there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate.”

He hopes the governor will respond to the masking issue at schools, but noted that “the devil will be in the details” of such a response.

The letter comes a week after the governor ended his mask mandate for outdoor venues and allowed hospitals to resume elective surgeries.

Most Eastern Washington communities and businesses long ago abandoned masks to ease the impact on patrons and employees.

And schools east of the Cascades have generally halted any enforcement of requiring masks on the general while on campuses for sports and other activities.

On Monday night, the Kettle Falls School Board became the first to openly vote to eliminate any mask mandate for students, staff and visitors.

That small school district’s action was mirrored in Richland, one of the largest districts in Eastern Washington on Tuesday night after the school board there voted 3-2 to end the mandate for its campuses, which include Richland and Hanford high schools.

Dunn condemned the moves in those districts.

“What those two districts did was voted to break the law,” Dunn said.

Still, Dunn said he understands the plight of students and parents.

He noted that second-graders have yet to experience a “normal” year and that graduating seniors have only had a single year – their freshman year -- of normalcy in their schools.

“It’s been a long, two-year journey; it hasn’t been easy,” he said.

“In my humble opinion, it is time for those who wish to remove their masks to be able to do so; those who wish to wear a mask should be able to do that, as well,” Talbott said last week. “As I venture out and about, it seems to me that this has already occurred in every place except for schools.”

On Monday night, the Kettle Falls School Board became the first to openly vote to eliminate any mask mandate for students, staff and visitors.

That small school district’s action was mirrored in Richland, one of the largest districts in Eastern Washington on Tuesday night after the school board there voted 3-2 to end the mandate for its campuses, which include Richland and Hanford high schools.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
Twitter: @RogerHarnack

 

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