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'Students are literally hiding behind masks': Finch Elementary principal explains why he took part in mask protest

District leadership was informed Tuesday of “a few staff members and administrator” at the school chose not to adhere to the Governor’s mask mandate.

SPOKANE, Wash — Finch Elementary principal says he choose not to wear a mask Tuesday and was escorted out of the building. 

SPS Spokesperson Sandra Jarrad said district leadership was informed of “a few staff members and administrator” at the school chose not to adhere to the Governor’s mask mandate.

“SPS’s district staff quickly addressed the incident, with limited impact to classroom and school environment,” Jarrad said in a statement. “Although we respect the varying opinions that exist regarding masks, we are required to follow the mandate and have taken the appropriate steps to ensure the situation is addressed.”

On Wednesday morning, Principal Shane O'Doherty sent KREM 2 the following letter about what happened and his decision not to wear a mask:

First, it is true, I chose not to wear a mask on Tuesday, November 23, 2021, but I chose to put one on when directed, and then was subsequently escorted out of the building. This situation is not yet resolved, so that is all I can say at this time regarding the nature of what I perceived to be a peaceful protest.

Second, but most importantly, I am truly sorry if my actions on Tuesday resulted in confusion or anger for anyone, especially after Finch Elementary was thrust into the media. I love my job as an educator and my choice to participate in this peaceful protest stems from my passion to help young people grow into great people. Due to the nature of the media reports, I felt it necessary to share with you my reasons for demonstrating my passion through my actions. 

I cannot stress enough that I am very concerned for our young people, their education, and their social and emotional well-being. I strongly believe our students are being negatively impacted by wearing masks on each of these levels. 

It is my understanding that studies on mask efficacy to be inconclusive for elementary-school-aged children due to the number of students unable to consistently follow guidelines for proper wearing of their mask. Further, I see students sneeze in their mask, chew on it, wear it below their nose, have one too big or too small, touching it constantly without sanitizing their hands before or after, i.e., fail to follow ALL the protocols adults hold to in studies on masks. I do understand and have no debate that a mask, even if worn improperly, may provide some protection against an air borne virus; however, at what costs? 

I see every day that wearing a mask is affecting the educational and mental well-being of our kids because of the negative impact on communication. It is self-evident the challenges to talk and hear behind masks, but an enormous disadvantage for our primary students learning to read. It is critical for them to see how to form sounds and words with their lips, teeth, and tongue as they learn to read and speak, and for us to see them doing it correctly. However, more importantly, is the non-verbal communication we are all missing. Communication is over 70% non-verbal, but we cover 2/3 of our face. 

Students are literally hiding behind masks, usually with a hood over their head. We can’t see the nuances they are expressing on their face. It is nearly impossible to pick up on the cues they give us because we can’t even see them. 

More importantly, they can’t see us and our smiles. Yes, it may sound funny, but it is about smiles! The power of a smile is widely known and can make a person’s day. This quick non-verbal can help relieve stress and increase connection. We need to connect with our students if we are going to improve their social and emotional health. I see it daily that masks are preventing us from making these critical non-verbal connections. 

I know from personal experience that all children are capable of getting the virus that causes COVID-19, but research has shown they don't become sick as often as adults with most children have mild or no symptoms. I also know from my personal experience that the mental health of our children is struggling. That is why it is a primary focus of our district this year, but we need to have conversations about what is having the greater impact on our kids and how we can work to balance it out. 

There it is, these reasons are why I felt strongly enough to put my well-being at risk when I chose not to wear a mask on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. I felt then and feel now our district needs to open a serious discussion regarding what is putting children at greater risk: the lack of FACE TO FACE connection impeding the social and emotional growth of our children, or a marginally effective policy against an illness marginally threatening to young people. Both are important, but as an educator and parent, I feel our kids need not only their education but their WHOLE health considered. Parents, please advocate for this important conversation and speak out. Our kids need us.

The following note was sent out Finch Elementary parents Tuesday night explaining what happened:

As per the Governor’s mandate, all SPS staff and students are required to wear face coverings in school. This morning, several staff members, including the school principal, chose not to adhere to the requirement and refused to wear a mask. SPS’s district staff quickly addressed this situation, with limited impact to classroom and the school environment. Although we respect the varying opinions that exist regarding masks, we are required to follow the mandate and have taken the appropriate steps to ensure the situation is addressed.

School will resume as scheduled after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

In mid-August, Governor Jay Inslee announced that all K-12 students and staff are required to wear face coverings in schools, regardless of vaccination status, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.