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Dozens of school districts in eastern Washington ask state to end mask mandate

The letter asks the state to end the mask mandate and move contract tracing responsibilities away from school districts.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — Superintendents from 49 school districts in eastern Washington have signed a letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee and state health leaders asking them to end the mask mandate.

The letter sent on Tuesday, comes as at least two school districts in the state have voted to defy the mask mandate and make masks optional for students and staff. The Governor is expected to update the state’s indoor masking rules on Thursday, but it's not clear when the indoor mask mandate could end or if it would include schools.

The letter asks the state to consider two things:

  • End the mandatory mask mandate
  • Move contact tracing responsibilities to the Department of Health rather than school districts

The letter references the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and testing as reasons that now is a time to safely remove masks.

“It is evident that the pandemic has taken an exceptional psychological and social toll on our entire communities. We are particularly concerned that the mental health of our students, their families, and our staff is such that relief from the restrictions we have strived to follow with fidelity, is needed. As other states are now lifting many pandemic restrictions, the pressure has built that we do the same,” the letter states.

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Below is the full letter and list of superintendents who signed it.

Dear Governor Inslee, Dr. Shah and Supt. Reykdal:

Thank you for your leadership and your commitment to keeping all Washingtonians safe as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. We are writing on behalf of districts in the NEWESD 101 region to encourage you to take immediate action toward substantial relaxation of the current school district student safety protocols. At a minimum we request your consideration of the following:

  1. First and foremost, end the mandatory mask mandate.
  2. Contact tracing responsibilities should be moved to the Department of health rather than school districts.

Now in the last half of the 2021-22 school year, we believe there is urgent need to address our students’ social and emotional well-being, as well as our school district staff’s fatigue with implementing the burdensome protocols, as the parents and families of our students have grown increasingly weary, and vocally critical of them. As you know well, unlike at the beginning of this long journey, everyone over age 5 now has access to vaccination if they choose, and access to COVID test opportunities has significantly expanded.

It is evident that the pandemic has taken an exceptional psychological and social toll on our entire communities. We are particularly concerned that the mental health of our students, their families, and our staff is such that relief from the restrictions we have strived to follow with fidelity, is needed. As other states are now lifting many pandemic restrictions, the pressure has built that we do the same.

Again, we strongly encourage that action is taken to ease these restrictions, and we thank you in advance for your consideration of these requests.

Sincerely,

The undersigned superintendents of school districts in the NEWESD 101 Region

  • Mr. Mick Miller and Mr. Kassidy Probert/Benge
  • Mr. Rob Roettger/Cheney
  • Mr. Jason Perrins/Chewelah
  • Mr. Jerry Pugh/Colfax
  • Mr. Greg Price/Columbia
  • Mr. Steve Fisk/Colville
  • Mr. Chuck Wyborney/Wilbur-Creston
  • Dr. John Glenewinkel/Curlew
  • Mr. Don Hawpe/Cusick
  • Mr. Jim Kowalkowski/Davenport
  • Mr. Travis Hanson/Deer Park
  • Mr. Brian Talbott/East Valley
  • Ms. Suzanne Schmick/St. John-Endicott
  • Mr. Bill Glidewell/Evergreen
  • Dr. Randy Russell/Freeman
  • Mr. Zane Wells/Garfield
  • Mr. Michael Dougherty and Mr. Derek Duchesne/
  •  Gonzaga Preparatory School
  • Mr. Brett Baum/Great Northern & Rosalia
  • Mr. Wayne Massie/Harrington
  • Mr. Michael Olsen/Kettle Falls
  • Mr. Doug Curtis/LaCrosse
  • Mr. Charles Pierce/Lamont
  • Mr. Jerrad Jeske/Liberty
  • Mr. Don Vanderholm/Lind-Ritzville
  • Mr. Brad Van Dyne/Loon Lake
  • Mr. Todd Spear/Mary Walker
  • Mr. Shawn Woodward/Mead
  • Mr. Tim Ames/Medical Lake
  • Dr. Dave Smith/Newport
  • Mr. Jeff Baerwald/Nine Mile Falls
  • Dr. Jake Dingman/Oakesdale
  • Mr. Dan Read/Odessa
  • Ms. Suzanne Savall/Orchard Prairie
  • Ms. Brenda McDonald/Pride Schools
  • Ms. Sherry Cowbrough/Orient
  • Mr. Mike Jones/Palouse
  • Mr. Eric Sobotta/Reardan-Edwall
  • Mr. Kevin Young/Republic
  • Dr. Ken Russell/Riverside
  • Ms. Nancy Lotze/Selkirk
  • Mr. Travis Franklin/Spokane International Academy
  • Mr. Bill Ressel/Sprague
  • Mr. Eric Patton/Steptoe
  • Ms. Kristina Allen/Summit Valley
  • Mr. John Cordell/Tekoa
  • Mr. Ben Ferney/Valley
  • Dr. Rob Clark/Washtucna
  • Mr. John Adkins/Wellpinit
  • Dr. Michael Dunn/NEWESD 101

WATCH MORE: Kettle Falls School District Superintendent Michael Olsen on defying Washington mask mandate