Public school districts across Washington state are refusing to unmask schoolchildren even after Democrat Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement Monday that the statewide masking requirement for schools would be lifted on March 12.
In an email to parents obtained by The Post Millennial, Seattle Public Schools said: “While Gov. Inslee plans to lift the state mask mandate on March 12, 2022, until further notice, the district will continue current mask requirements – requiring mask use by all students, staff, visitors, and others while they are indoors and outdoors at all SPS buildings and on school buses. To change our current masking requirements, SPS and the Seattle Education Association (SEA) must first seek to negotiate a revised agreement/Memorandum of Understanding.”
The district noted that changes to the existing policy that go into effect on March 7 include that students in grades K-5 can have indoor singing but “will wear medical/surgical or higher-level masks while singing.”
For audiences for performing arts, “Elementary schools can have performances with families in the audience. Families will sit in pods that are 6-feet apart from others, per current DOH and Public Health guidance.”
Assemblies and performances with student-only audiences can reduce physical distancing to 3-feet apart from each other.
Additionally, visitors to the buildings must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours. Home tests will be accepted. Same day rapid antigen tests are highly recommended. And follow all SPS Health and safety protocols including universal masking as required by the SEA Memorandum of Understanding while maintaining 6-feet physical distance from others.
In a statement, Seattle Public Schools said, “Future decisions on mask use within the district will be made in partnership with public health, and its implementation will be established after consultation and mutually agreed upon guidelines that are reached through bargaining with our labor partners.”
The teachers’ union for the district appears to be the roadblock to mask removal after they released this statement to Fox 13:
“In our experience, universal required masking has been our most important in-classroom and in-building mitigation measure during this pandemic. Our students and educators have been wearing masks in schools for over a year now, and it has become routine and accepted.”
“In fact, masks contribute to feelings of safety and normalcy that schools provide our students. Further, removing the mask mandate now fails the many students and educators who are immuno-compromised or pregnant, who live with someone who is, or who live with children under age 5 who cannot yet receive a vaccine. A large number of children under 12 remain unvaccinated with disproportionately higher numbers of those living in our more socially and economically diverse communities.
“It is important that with masking changes the voices of those most vulnerable to COVID be heard, Educators and Students alike. Their needs are historically dismissed in hasty moves to normalcy. The severity of their risk should never be lost in our transitions and SEA will ensure their concerns are seen for discussion through our labor negotiations.”
In a letter obtained by The Post Millennial to the directors of King County Public Health from representatives from the Seattle, Highline, Renton, Shoreline, Federal Way, Bellevue, Kent, Tukwila and Lake Washington school districts’ teachers’ unions and various other associations, representatives begged Director Worsham and Dr. Duchin, to maintain “…a masking requirement until at least May 1 (approximately two weeks after spring break).”
According to the letter, on February 18, elected union leaders “…met with representatives of Public Health and the King County Executive Office to discuss the Governor’s decision to lift the state-wide mask mandate and Public Health’s authority to implement a county-wide mask mandate for K-12 schools.
“We provided our on-the-ground expertise regarding educator experiences of masking in schools, including our insights into how removing the mask mandate too quickly would negatively impact our school communities. For the reasons described below, we are collectively advocating that Public Health maintain a masking requirement until at least May 1 (approximately two weeks after spring break).”
The letter continued, “In our experience, universal required masking has been our most important mitigation measure during this pandemic (other than vaccines). Students and educators have been wearing masks in schools for over a year now, and it has become routine and accepted. In fact, universal masking provides an important sense of safety and security for our students, families, and educators during this time of enormous uncertainty. Masks contribute to feelings of safety and normalcy that schools provide our students. Removing masks will significantly disrupt that sense of normalcy and educators will struggle to explain to students why we are removing masks so soon.”
“Moreover, it was just a few weeks ago that we were being told to improve our masks, leading to a large number of students rallying at Seattle Public Schools headquarters demanding better masks.” The letter failed to address the dozens of rallies held across the state by parents and students including school walkouts advocating against masking in schools.
The letter claimed that “Removing the mask mandate now fails the many students and educators who are immuno-compromised or pregnant, who live with someone who is, or who live with young children under age 5 who cannot yet receive a vaccine. And, as you know, there continue to be a large number of children under 12 who are unvaccinated with disproportionately higher numbers of those living in more socially and economically diverse communities. We are raising our concerns because we believe prematurely allowing the mask requirement to expire in King County schools could cause serious harm.”
“First, we believe it could result in significant anxiety for many students, families, and educators, and exacerbate rather than help with the mental health crisis for them.”
The reps then pivoted to claiming that removing the masks is racist. “Second, we believe the negative impacts of lifting the mask mandate would be most heavily felt by our [b]lack, Indigenous, and [p]eople of [c]olor communities as well as by people with disabilities.” Ironically, the union reps failed to mention acknowledge children with disabilities, whose progress has been stymied for two years.
Despite over 40,000 students fleeing the public school system in the state, the reps claimed in the letter that “…we believe it (removing masks) could result in a significant number of students and/or educators choosing to go on leave, which would worsen our current educator staffing shortage and unusually high number of student absences.”
Though they acknowledged “…the recent updates by Governor Inslee and the CDC allow mask mandates to expire,” they noted that “The governor’s announcement expressly noted that local public health authorities can continue to act as needed to protect our population; we need PHSKC to take action and extend the mask mandate. It is our strong recommendation that the mask mandate be lifted no earlier than May 1.”
They claimed that “This timeline would center the needs of our BIPOC communities and those who are immunocompromised or cannot yet be vaccinated.”
“Continuing the mask mandate until two weeks after spring break puts more distance between the Omicron surge,” the letter read, “creates a longer window to educate the community about the science behind lifting the mask mandate, gives time for the impact of transmission due to spring break travel to subside, and allows our school community time to emotionally prepare for such a significant transition.”
When Inslee announced the rollback on Monday, many parents were curious why the Governor stressed that he would fight and protect Washingtonian’s personal choice to continue masking. He even went so far to say that it was one of the reasons he was not relinquishing his emergency powers which he has had for over two years. Those same parents, after finding out about the letter, were quick to draw a line from Inslee’s comment to the teachers’ unions.