Students return to class with masks and vaccines for all staff

Posted

About 50 parents and community members assembled outside of the Blaine High School cafeteria to protest governor Jay Inslee’s mandates and encourage the Blaine school board to resist them. While not all of them spoke during the public comment portion of the August 23 board meeting, the majority of those in attendance opposed masks and vaccinations.

Before the meeting started, board president Charles Gibson addressed the angry crowd. Interruptions and heckles were
frequent.

“We want to be able to communicate your concerns to those who can do something about this,” he said. “We are elected officials; we have certain limitations we have to adhere to. We cannot change the law.”

Gibson added that if the board and school administration do not comply with the governor’s orders, the district will lose funding.

State mandates

With two weeks until the start of the 2021-22 school year and rapidly increasing case rates and hospitalizations throughout the state, the governor announced a vaccine requirement for all state educators and issued an indoor mask mandate for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.

Under the governor’s new proclamation, all K-12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities are required to be fully vaccinated by October 18. To do so, educators who are not yet vaccinated will have to get their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the only dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, by October 4 to be in compliance.

Washington is the first state to implement such a mandate without a testing alternative, as Inslee said such options were proven to be ineffective in preventing Covid-19 infection.

Individuals with legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs can seek an exemption under the new proclamation, he said. Exemptions do not include personal or philosophical objections. Students do not have to get vaccinated, regardless of age.

Under Inslee’s new orders, all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will also have to wear a mask indoors, which means students and teachers will have to mask up this fall.

“We should not shut down our economy again. We should not shut down our schools again,” Inslee said. “Instead, we are going to keep saving lives by using the effective tools that are at our disposal.”

This action comes after an August 13 news briefing where state superintendent of public instruction Chris Reykdal urged governor Inslee to include state educators in his August 9 proclamation that requires all state, private healthcare and long-term care workers be vaccinated by mid-
October.

Reykdal said if people vaccinate and wear masks, he does not anticipate the need to shut down schools this year. “But that is a function of how we behave,” he said. “Nobody in the state of Washington is going to expect us to keep schools open if there is a massive, massive spread of this thing.”

Reykdal estimated 70 percent of educators statewide are fully vaccinated and that about 40,000-50,000 still need the vaccine.

Washington State Department of Health secretary Dr. Umair Shah said there are a total of 2 million people in Washington above the age of 12 who have not started their vaccine series yet.

In the press conference, Reykdal reminded the public that this is an order by the state and governor. Local school boards and administration are not making this decision and were not consulted, he said, adding all criticism should be directed toward the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

On August 18, just hours before the governor’s afternoon mandate announcement, about 30 parents and kids gathered outside the Blaine school district office on the corner of H Street Road and Mitchell Avenue to protest masks in schools. They held signs with messages like, “My Face, My Choice,” “Smiles Are Contagious,” and “Free Our Faces,” while some passing cars honked in approval. Many of the parents spoke at the board meeting.

Ryan Swinburnson of Swin Law LLC, who graduated from Blaine High School and did not attend the protest, told the board that while it may not be able to disobey the mandates, there are other things it could do to address the concerns of parents who want their children back in the classroom without masks.

He said the board could ask representatives from the health department, superintendent’s office and governor’s office to attend the meetings to explain the necessity and impact the use of masks will have; could work with other school districts to push back on the governor’s mandates and have him release his emergency powers; and have an extra meeting a month dedicated as a work session to work on these issues.

“That’s what you should be doing, putting pressure on the elected officials above you,” Swinburnson said. “You are the elected officials, so we are here putting pressure on you since you were elected.”

More than a handful of speakers told the board they were pulling their children out of Blaine schools, while others who spoke said they were already homeschooling their kids.

Back to school

Superintendent Christopher Granger said the new mandates will not affect students from returning to full-time, in-person learning this year. “We feel like we can do in-person learning safely with all the precautions we have in place to mitigate the spread of the virus,” he said. 

Students and staff will wear masks inside and remain 3 feet from each other when able to do so. Under the new OSPI guidance, schools should follow physical distancing protocols as long as it is not a barrier for getting all students back in the building full time, Granger said. This means spacing accommodations may be made to fit students into classrooms.

Students will sit 6 feet away from each other at lunch at assigned seats so that it’s easier for the health department and district to contact trace. Similarly, no changes will be made to social distancing on buses as there is not space to do so.

Granger said it’s yet to be determined whether the district will hold vaccination clinics for staff who have yet to be vaccinated.

The district does have the ability to test students and may with the permission of parents, he said. If a student is asymptomatic and tests negative after being in contact with a positive case, they may return to in-person learning without needing to comply with the 14-day quarantine. “We want to provide as many options to families as we can so they can make the best choice for them,” Granger said.

He said there has been no indication of a need to return to online learning but the district could easily do so if necessary.

Granger also said the district currently has enough bus drivers to run its routes but is always looking for more. Those interested can contact transportation at 360/332-0700 or email transportation@blainesd.org.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here

OUR PUBLICATIONS