Schools reverse unmasking decisions, Spokane mayor joins chorus to end mandates

(The Center Square) — Within 10 days of flouting the requirement that students wear masks in class, three schools in Eastern Washington reversed course to avoid paying millions in state fines.

On another front in the controversy, Spokane mayor Nadine Woodward added her voice to the growing outcry that Gov. Jay Inslee end indoor mask mandates as other states have done.

Woodward said via social media that updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that those living in healthier, or low to medium risk areas, such as Eastern Washington, should not be required to wear masks indoors anymore.

Protests from schools and public officials appears to have caught the ear of Washington’s governor. On Monday, Inslee joined Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in announcing that masks will no longer be required in schools or most indoor settings in all three states as of March 12. The prior date set by Inslee to remove facial coverings was March 21.

Masks will still be required in certain settings within Washington, including health care, corrections facilities and long-term care facilities.

The Washington State Department of Health will be issuing new guidance for K-12 schools so they can prepare to implement updated safety protocols.

Colville School District in Stevens County sustained a casualty in the debate over mask mandates. Superintendent Steve Fisk, who has been on the job for less than a year, asked to resign at the Feb. 25 board meeting where student masks were restored.

Fisk was previously the principal at North Center High School in Spokane.

He was unable to be reached by The Center Square for comment about his decision.

After he tendered his resignation, Fisk was noncommittal when asked by a media outlet if the masking decision had made him want to leave.

Fisk said that “professionally” this is where had “landed in terms of my heart and my mind” to KXLY News Spokane.

Colville High School Principal Kevin Knight has been appointed as interim superintendent.

Last week, Kettle Falls School District also rescinded its decision to remove the mask mandate ahead of Inslee’s timeline, as did the Richland School District.

The schools boards in each community restored masking after being told by administrators that the districts faced a $70,000 fine for every student and teacher not masked, which would have been financially devastating.

The community of Kettle Falls is located about 10 miles northwest of Colville. Parents at the Feb. 24 meeting, which was videotaped, were unhappy with the 3-2 vote to put masks back on their children despite the potential financial hit.

Board member Jaya Fowler campaigned against the mask mandate prior to being elected last November. She voted no at the Feb. 24 meeting.

“I don’t want to see a bankrupt community or a school, but I want to take a stand for my children, as well as the rest of the children in this community,” Fowler told CBS affiliate KREM2.

Kettle Falls schools closed Friday after Superintendent Michael Olsen announced that teachers needed a moment to regroup before returning to masked classes again on Monday.