KETTLE FALLS, Wash. — After a school board vote Monday evening, on Tuesday morning, students and staff in the Kettle Falls School District were able to come to class without wearing a mask.
The school board voted 3-0, with 2 members abstaining. The majority vote meant that for the first time this school year, students and staff would have the option of wearing a mask.
But the decision doesn't come without legal consequences.
The decision violates state mandates that require masking for all K-12 students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Tuesday morning, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal served Kettle Falls superintendent Michael Olsen a warning that if the district doesn't comply within 20 days, the state will begin to withhold apportionment funding.
Superintendent Olsen said the warning was "expected," and the district is prepared to support itself for several weeks if funding should be withheld.
"Financially, Kettle Falls School District has done a good job of maintaining a healthy cash reserve that would allow us to keep our doors open if apportionment was withheld for four to six weeks," Olsen said.
Olsen said monthly apportionments can range between $1 to $1.1 million.
OSPI said the district has until March 2, 2022, to provide verification that it is in compliance with state masking rules.
Reykdal's letter to Superintendent Olsen also reminded Kettle Falls that wearing masks has prevented additional COVID-related tragedies in their county.
“You are aware that Stevens County has had over 8,000 COVID cases, 500+ hospitalizations, and tragically 120+ deaths since the start of the pandemic," Reykdal's letter said. "Stevens County remains the county with the lowest community vaccination rate in the state of Washington. I am confident that without masking in schools and in our communities, especially before vaccines were widely available, the loss of life in your county would have been much worse.”
Olsen said he supports his board, community, and staff and the board's decision addresses community needs surrounding mental health and social interaction for students.
Some Kettle Falls parents organized a "celebration rally" to thank the school board for its decision.
Students, parents and grandparents stood outside near the town’s only stop light for about an hour, holding signs thanking school board members.
“We want our freedoms back. We’re tired. This has been two years,” said parent Monica Spence. “I think a 98 percent plus recovery rate on this, hardcore flu, is acceptable and I’m willing to take that risk.”
Kettle Falls High School junior Ethan Bolt said Tuesday was the first “normal” school day he’s had in a long time. “I think it’s all about that personal responsibility. If you want to take that risk you should be able to do that,” Bolt said. “I would say about 98 percent of the school was not wearing a mask so that was good.”
Olsen said he has received positive feedback from students and families.
According to KEPR news, a CBS affiliate, on Tuesday evening, the Richard School District followed Kettle Falls in voting to make masks optional in schools.