Washington

Washington superintendent calls for end to state’s school mask mandate

With Gov. Jay Inslee hinting at a potential end to Washington’s indoor mask mandate, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal expressed this week that he believes the state mandate for students should be left up to individual school districts.

Washington’s outdoor mask mandate to be lifted Feb. 18; indoor to follow

Washington’s outdoor mask mandate is scheduled to be lifted by Feb. 18, with Inslee expecting an announcement on the indoor iteration to follow sometime next week. For schools, Reykdal intimated in a recent blog post that “it is time to carefully plan our move from a pandemic response to an endemic system of readiness.”

“With high immunity rates and our ability to carry out rapid antigen tests with nearly every school district participating in our state’s COVID-19 testing program, the time is now to rebalance the health and educational benefits of masking in our schools,” he proposed. “As part of the transition from pandemic to endemic, I believe it is safe and timely to eliminate the statewide masking requirement for students and allow for a decision by local health officials.”

Reykdal went on to clarify that he’s recommending that Inslee and the state Department of Health “change the guidance to reflect this in the coming weeks,” rather than right away.

Throughout the pandemic, Reykdal has made it clear that in most cases his preference is to defer to individual school districts on public health decisions, particularly related to remote learning and potential closures. He further noted this week that when it comes to masks, the benefits of ending the state-level mask mandate for schools would “outweigh the ongoing impacts of the learning environment as well as the challenges of maintaining a fixed statewide policy.”

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“Current laws empower local health officials to assess health and safety risks and determine local strategies,” he pointed out. “Given the varied vaccination rates and adherence to other mitigation strategies across the regions in our state, it is time to return decision-making to local health officials.”

At least four other states — Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware — has implemented plans to end their own school mask mandates in recent days. Oregon’s and Delaware’s will expire on March 31, while Connecticut’s will come to an end on Feb. 28. New Jersey’s student mask mandate is scheduled to end on March 7.



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