State Superintendent recommends change of mask mandate policies in schools, claims ‘landscape’ of pandemic has changed

Meanwhile, the state’s largest public school employees’ union continues support for masks in schools.

The Washington State Superintendent, Chris Reykdal, issued a statement on Feb. 9, recommending that the governor and Department of Health change the policy that requires educators and students to wear masks in schools.

In the statement, Reykdal claims that the combination of widespread vaccinations and much higher infection-acquired immunity due to the pervasive Omicron variant has changed the landscape of the pandemic once again.

“I believe it is time to carefully plan our move from a pandemic response to an endemic system of readiness,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that before vaccines were widely available and before there was rapid testing, masks were safety essential in schools, but he said he believed they had an impact on student learning. He supports increasing rapid testing in schools so infections can be quickly identified and isolated.

“My recommendation today reflects my belief that the benefits of making this change outweigh the ongoing impacts on the learning environment as well as the challenges of maintaining a fixed statewide policy,” Reykdahl said.

However, a spokesperson from the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest public school employee union, made a statement of continued support for universal masking in schools on the same day.

Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, maintained that any change to masking guidelines must come after clear evidence of a significant statewide decline in the COVID rate, and raised concerns that lifting the mask requirements now would lead to increased cases and short staffed schools.

“Educators need other protections in place, including readily accessible high-quality masks, adequate leave pools and policies, and a metric of at what case levels a new mask mandate would be announced,” Delaney stated. “At a time when schools, particularly those in communities of color and low-income communities, are facing staffing shortages we must anticipate that lifting the mask mandate will exacerbate the shortages and could interrupt learning.”