Dropping masks in schools might not be instant across all districts
This report dates to how things stood Monday, March 7, before state recommendations came out for schools.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — While the state’s indoor mask mandate is set to conclude Saturday, March 12, education leaders last week awaited clear guidance on how a broad spectrum of safety measures within schools may change.
The state Department of Health expects to release guidelines to school districts this week “so there is time for them to prepare in advance of the mask mandate lifting,” a department spokeswoman said in late February.
Within each district, the union and administrators need to agree that it’s safe to do so as a health and safety measure.
In Snohomish, the school district plans to end masking requirements in line with the governor’s timeline.
Snohomish’s teacher union president Justin Fox-Bailey said in late February that he’s waiting for the guidelines before he could offer a formal opinion. Generally during the pandemic, “our position has been to implement, with fidelity, whatever it is that the state’s guidance says,” Fox-Bailey said.
Monroe School District acting superintendent Kim Whitworth wrote in a March 1 bulletin cautioning that while discussions with labor groups are scheduled, the district cannot formally say masks will be removed.
“While the statewide mask mandate will soon be lifted, we currently have COVID Health & Safety agreements in place with some of our labor unions for the 2021-22 school year that state if federal, state, or county guidance or requirements change, both parties will meet to discuss and/or come to an agreement about how the changes will be applied in Monroe,” Whitworth wrote. “Meetings have been scheduled and we will share updates when available.”
Monroe Education Association president Robyn Hayashi said discussions with the district about the mask mandate will happen after the DOH guidelines come out.
“We want to be sure that our in-the-building experiences are heard and that our district satisfactorily addresses any challenges that arise from the Governor’s announcement and newest guidelines,” Hayashi said by email Feb. 23.
There is more than just masks to consider.
For example, will mask rules be dropped for indoor chorus and choir singing classes? Would woodwind and brass instruments still be required to have “bell cover caps” for capturing exhaled air? Will the DOH modify its 3-foot desk distancing rules within schools?
School districts, as well as local health districts, can implement local mask requirements stricter than the state Department of Health’s standards. So far for the county, the Snohomish Health District has not publicly indicated it will.
The Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union organization, supports the transition and timeline recommended by public health experts to lift the school mask mandate, its president Larry Delaney said in a Feb. 28 statement.
“Public health experts are indicating that hospitalizations and community spread are coming down to a point where a statewide mask mandate would not be needed after March 11,” Delaney said. “Public health decisions will still be made at the county and local level after March 11 and in response to any localized outbreaks. Local educators’ unions will continue to work with their school districts to ensure local COVID rates determine appropriate layers of protection for our schools.”
School districts will continue to be required to report COVID-19 outbreaks.
Everett’s teacher’s union president did not respond for this story by deadline.
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