Richland schools will be closed Wednesday after a school board decision violates a state requirement that students wear masks inside buildings.
District officials have said they need to plan further, as government officials are already working on warning letters that could threaten their funding.
“We ask for your patience as the district works to ensure that our schools can continue to serve all students,” the district said in a statement on its website Tuesday night.
The extraordinary move came after an unexpected vote by board members Semi Bird, Audrey Byrd and Carrie Williams to “disguise the optional” during a special seminar on Tuesday.
The issue was not on the agenda of the meeting, which did not allow the public to know that it would be discussed. The meeting was scheduled to discuss a resolution on the COVID vaccine process.
The legitimacy of the move was immediately raised by former longtime board president Rick Jansson.
“I think it’s black and white illegal,” Jansons said report on KEPR-TV.
At the beginning of the meeting, Byrd offered to immediately move on to “choosing a mask.”
“I feel my voice strongly,” he told KEPR TV. “… Our children must come first. That’s why these buildings are here. “
Byrd decided not to support the same during the previous meeting. He was unavailable on Tuesday night to comment on the change in his vote.
Richland is the third largest district in the state where masks will be optional. The Kititas School District changed course after a decision was made at the beginning of the school year to choose.
Then on Monday, Kettle Falls in Stevens County voted to make the mask optional.
Board President Jill Oldson, who opposed the decision, told the Herald after the meeting that it was still largely unclear how the county would implement the board’s decision.
While the county has declared masks optional, state law still requires schools and administrators to comply with the requirement.
This puts administrators at odds with the State Department of Labor and Industry when they require teachers to be in the same classrooms with students without masks.
Oldson said she understands the frustration of society, but fears it will lead to unintended consequences.
Although a large number of people who spoke at school board meetings spoke out against the mask’s demand, Oldson said she felt the community was still divided on whether to continue to follow COVID’s recommendations.
“I’m most disappointed to see the finish line,” she said. “I’m just upset that we could see the finish line, and we decided to ignore it.”
State, union response
Gov. Jay Insley has already repealed the rules of the street mask since Feb. 18 due to a reduction in new COVID cases, and a press conference is scheduled for Thursday.
“This action does not affect the state’s demands for camouflage. School boards do not have the authority to replace state law. That’s not true, ”said Mike Folk, deputy director of communications for Inslee.
“The idea that they are canceling school days and ruining the lives of students and families for the sake of politics speaks even worse about the actions of the majority,” he said.
“Any debate about masks in this pandemic should focus on science. Science tells us that masks work. They are an easy way for people to keep each other safe, ”Folk said. “During the pandemic, they helped reduce infection in congregations where people have lower levels of vaccination, including in schools.”
The Richland Education Association does not directly comment on the council’s decision, but said it supports Dr. Shelley Redinger’s choice to close schools on that day.
“Doctor. Redinger is in contact with OSPI chief Chris Reckdahl and Tenil chief of staff Jeffries-Simmons, ”said union president Ken Hayes. “Doctor. Redinger reminds all employees that we are required to abide by state law, including the mask mandate. A meeting of the district administration will be held to resolve this issue and determine the deadline for closing the school. “
Rules of the state
If school districts violate state regulations, the state sends a 15-day notice of a change of course.
The rules require a “local education department” ordinance that “cancels any actions” that violate the proclamation.
If they do not cancel, a second five-day notice will be sent. If they do not meet this deadline, the head of state may withhold the agency’s next monthly proportion of income.
Government officials said they would send a message to the school district.