Investigation finds no evidence Roosevelt Elementary teachers refused to wear masks, despite rumors

SPOKANE, Wash. — The back to school process has been a winding road thanks to COVID-19.

Science tells us masking up can protect us. When it comes to schools, it’s required.

Wearing face coverings is a matter of public health. It’s why 4 News Now was concerned when we came across messages in a local school, detailing staff who allegedly were not masking up.

A public records request showed messages of staff refusing to wear masks or social distance at Roosevelt Elementary School.

In one, Roosevelt’s Principal Dr. Matthew Henshaw writes how he’s looking into the intermediate bi program and has discovered a para-educator was sick, but tested negative for COVID-19.

A chain of emails follows between Roosevelt, the school district and the Spokane Regional Health District, ultimately ending with a message saying “resolved” on October 8th.

4 News Now wanted to know how and when, so we reached out to Dr. Henshaw.

“There has never been a staff member that has told me they’re unwilling to wear a mask, only clarification on when is it appropriate to not mask,” said Henshaw.

He wouldn’t confirm the classroom, and in the incident mentioned in that October 8th email, he says his investigation found this wasn’t a complaint but, rather, a question.

“I believe the question that was addressed in this instance, students were actually remote,” said Henshaw. “So staff were still questioned, do we wear a mask when there’s no students there but we’re teaching remotely and more than 6 feet apart?”

According to L&I, teachers and staff don’t have to wear a mask if they’re alone in a room. But in an email dated more than a month later, we learn there was a situation in which kids were in a classroom.

On November 10, Roosevelt’s school nurse reached out again to the district. The message references a staff member who “continues to disregard the mask wearing and social distancing guidelines in their classroom,” and that it’s been brought to light a second time after Dr. Henshaw talked to this teacher about non-compliance.

The message also says kids are not being supported in wearing their masks.

4 News Now sent a copy of the email to the district to ask what happened. The district says: “This investigation was a matter of how school staff should handle masking if there was more than one teacher in the room. Dr. Henshaw would not clarify exactly what actions he took or how this was resolved but that “we always start with guidance and counseling to try to help them understand what the expectation is.”

Dr. Henshaw would not confirm the classroom in question, though he did admit parents were not notified.

“In this case, we didn’t have that need,” said Henshaw. “We didn’t have anyone saying they were unwilling to wear a mask.”

When it comes to the November 10th email, Henshaw says the concerns were sent directly to the school nurse.

Spokane Public Schools says it has a website and hotline for teachers and staff to anonymously report their questions and concerns. Overall, he says he’s proud of his staff and encourages them to reach out.

“Those types of questions, we want them to come to us regularly because we want to ensure that we’re keeping every student and staff member safe,” said Henshaw.

According to SPS, there have been low transmission rates in the schools that have kids learning in person. There have been no cases at Roosevelt.

SPS offers webinars on how to stay safe and their policies during the pandemic.