A chorus of angry parents rose up after school districts announced that children returning to school this fall will need to wear masks in class.
Kennewick, Richland and Pasco districts announced late last week they would comply with the order from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee requiring face coverings for all teachers and students even if they have been fully vaccinated.
He cited the spike in infections of the COVID-19 delta variant for his decision.
There was an immediate backlash from some parents, upset that local school officials won’t defy the state order, calling them “spineless.”
Others were angry at Inslee and state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal for what they feel is an unnecessary requirement.
The districts unanimously explained that their hands are tied because the state order is law. They pointed out that local school boards don’t have the power to change that mandate.
“Further, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal has stated that ‘boards or districts that intentionally disobey, dismiss or shun an explicit law, including a Governor’s executive order, which has the power of law, will see an immediate halt to their basic education apportionment and their federal funds that come through (the state superintendent’s office),” according to a message to Richland parents.
That loss of state funding equals more than $100 million for the districts and is more than 60 percent of their budgets.
In part, Inslee is looking to protect children younger than 12, who aren’t able to get a vaccine and to whom the delta variant poses a greater risk of infection than other strains, he said during a media briefing last week.
The aim is to lower the risk of transmission within schools and to the larger communities, he said.
Cases in Benton and Franklin counties have doubled in the last 18 days, Dr. Amy Person, the Benton Franklin counties health officer, said during a Thursday news briefing.
Many of the Facebook comments on the Tri-Cities districts’ posts lashed out at the idea of children wearing masks or the need to react to COVID-19.
“The stupidity is insane!” one woman wrote. “Goodbye Washington. Hello Florida.”
Another person said it shouldn’t be required and parents should have a choice if they are concerned.
While many were upset, others celebrated the decision, raising concerns about the growing number of cases.
“With so many who are choosing to be unvaccinated, children and teachers are at risk of getting sick. We’ve eliminated deadly illnesses over the years in this country by vaccinations,” one woman commented. “We all had them as children. When the large majority are vaccinated we won’t need masks.”
Others simply wanted more information about the new rules.
While students will need to go back to class with masks, the state and the districts are easing other requirements that students faced when they returned after the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Many prior requirements have been relaxed, such as those for quarantining and physical distancing, or completely removed, such as the need for daily or weekly health attestations,” Richland officials pointed out.
The state is keeping a 3-foot separation requirement that will let all students return to class.
Officials are asking schools to find ways to maximize the space between students, such as when students are having lunch, walking in hallways or doing “high-risk activities” such as physical education, singing or playing instruments.
They are recommending testing for students with COVID-19 symptoms, but aren’t requiring any testing programs, according to the new guidelines.
Students who were at least 3 feet away from each other and had a mask on will no longer be counted as “close contacts,” so they won’t need to quarantine.
That eliminates the chance of all the students who sit near someone with COVID-19 being required to switch to distance learning at home while they quarantine. That was a particular problem with staffing at Tri-City school districts last spring.