Kettle Falls School Board votes to comply with state mask mandate
KETTLE FALLS, Wash.– Everyone in the Kettle Falls Schools District will be putting their masks back on– for now.
At the Kettle Falls School Board meeting Wednesday, the board voted 3-2 to comply with the mask mandate. The vote comes after the school district closed while the Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigates the district’s decision to rescind its mask mandate.
“Our staff supports asking students to wear masks for 13 more days. Right now, that’s what we’re talking about,” Superintendent Michael Olsen said.
On February 14, the board voted to make masks optional. That same week the L&I contacted them.
The agency sent a warning letter and let the district know it could be fined.
“If they [L&I] were to come in and inspect they could bankrupt the school district in one visit if they so desired,” Olsen said. “I asked him about the potential penalty, worst case, and he told me that it could be as much as $70,000 per unmasked staff member.”
Days later, every board member agreed to require masks for staff members, but not students. L&I got involved again along with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
With the potential for fines and other consequences, the board held a special meeting on Thursday night. Many people attending the meeting shouted at the board several times throughout the 30-minute meeting.
“I want the same things for your kids, but you have to understand that as a community, this is a major decision to shut the doors on our school,” one board member said.
In response, someone in the audience said, “shut it down.” The board member later said the decision is not just about the fines, but they have jobs to consider.
“Part of the community is our teachers and staff and if we make this decision, they possibly lose jobs,” the board member said.
Olsen said the team doesn’t believe the risk and penalties are worth the reward since students only have to wear masks for 13 more days.
The district drew back its decision for staff when L&I announced last week that they were launching an investigation. In response, the district began requiring staff to wear masks while still allowing students the freedom to choose.
Last Friday, L&I pulled the district back into compliance. However, on Wednesday, L&I reached out to the district to say they were again out of compliance following a call from the Governor’s Office.
The state has announced that it will lift its indoor mask mandate, including the directive for schools, on March 21. Until then, districts are expected to comply and require masking.
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