Heated public comment against mask mandate at Waitsburg School Board meeting
August 26, 2021
WAITSBURG—Emotions were high as parents and caregivers voiced opinions about the recent mask mandate at the Waitsburg School Board meeting on August 23.
Secondary principal Stephanie Wooderchak reported that middle and high school business offices were now open, and staff would be available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. School registration was August 23-26. Ice cream socials and open house events were also held this week for middle school students to give them a chance to meet teachers, learn their schedule, and get familiar with the classrooms. The first day of school for all students will be September 7.
Wooderchak reported that football practice started on August 18 and the district is excited for the upcoming sports seasons.
Dayton-Waitsburg Athletic Combine director Sam Korlsund reported that 31 students had signed up for football, up from the 29 athletes reported at the Dayton School Board meeting the night before.
“I wrote all of this information out for the Dayton School Board meeting last night,” Korlsund said. “I have had to cross the information out four times because we keep getting registrations in. We are now up to 31, I expect that number to keep climbing. The great news is that we are getting dangerously close to being able to have a JV team.”
Korslund said this is exciting considering the incoming football team is made up of young players, there were only two seniors signed up as of Thursday.
“Getting those kids out against younger kids on other JV teams will help their skill level, and will help them progress faster,” he said. “We are very excited about the turnout.”
As of Thursday, there were two students signed up for cheer, but Korslund said that cheer is a sport that tends to have more late sign-ups. He expects that team to grow as the school year starts.
There were 15 volleyball players signed up as of Thursday, up by one player since the Dayton School Board meeting. A rumor had circulated in the community that there would not be enough volleyball players for the season, and Korlsund was very excited to announce that the rumor was not true.
Games will be split between the Dayton and Waitsburg school districts. Korslund said that he had discussed game location with volleyball coach Tracy Barron, who wanted to play in Waitsurg, however, the gym floor is being redone and the season will start in Dayton and end in Waitsburg.
He reported that ticket prices had been set at a recent league meeting- $5.00 regular ticket fee, $4.00 for students and seniors. Korslund wants to work with both schools to develop an equitable ticket sales distribution.
“We are combined, so it doesn’t matter where the game is. The money should be split between the two ASB’s, equally,” he said.
Korslund also shared that he would like to recreate the DW Combine Committee, offering the leadership to previous members. He said that representation from both schools, including student athletes, would be necessary to keep the combine running smoothly. Korslund said he anticipates sitting as chairman for the future committee.
The school board heard from many concerned parents during the public comment period.
Abby Grende, a mother of three students in the district, spoke against the mandates, calling them “harmful against rights and freedoms.” Grende referenced data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, that as of August 2021, 349 children ages 0-17 have died as a result of COVID-19 infection since January of 2020.
“Children are at low risk of contracting COVID as well as spreading COVID due to various reasons, such as the type of receptors in their nose and the t-cells in their antibodies,” Grende said. “With that, there is no reason to make our children wear masks.”
Grende went on to say that decades of research proved that masks are ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Another speaker, Tracy Daniel, a life skills para educator at College Place Public Schools, said that she has had communication issues with her special needs students, alluding that students did not recognize her with a facemask on and it was inhibiting their learning environment.
Daniel referenced a time that she removed her face mask to take a drink of water, during which one of her students seemed to recognize her, which later helped improve the student’s learning. Daniel said it was very hard to teach sounds and enunciation with a mask on. She ended her speech saying that the mask mandate was “medical tyrancy (sic).”
School board member Sarah Boudrieau spoke against the mask requirement, saying that the mandate was not discussed with school boards, nor was it put up for a vote which she stated is part of her duties outlined in the school board expectations and various RCW’s. In the district policy, she said, she is to be held accountable for the community which she felt was loud and clear.
Boudrieau cited various lines from the state’s Constitution regarding funding for public K-12 education facilities. She referred to Section 3, stating funds may not be pulled from public schools if all basic education means are not met as laid out by the state.
She also referenced a letter submitted by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) in 2016, clarifying that schools are supposed to be under local control. She later recommended that the district amend their infectious disease policy. Her amendments included adding that the district will not participate in controlling or enforcement of facial coverings outside of what is listed within state statute.
“We need to give our kids a safe environment, but if they can’t breathe, they can’t breathe,” she said.
Board member Ross Hamann said that, if the district were to defy the mandate, they would lose the funding needed to continue providing education to the children of Waitsburg. Superintendent Pickel added that the emergency proclamation signed by Governor Inslee, is law under the current circumstances.
“I have serious concerns about this as an agent of the district as well,” Pickel said. “Legally, the governor’s proclamation, which is an emergency proclamation, carries the force and effect of law under the broad powers awarded to him in times of emergency. The proclamation 21-5.1, is the law unless or until it is either revoked by the governor, set aside by the courts or changed through the legislative process.”
Boudrieau expressed additional concerns with discipline measures if students refuse to wear a mask, referring to a suspension that was issued last school year. The board said they were not prepared to discuss new policies, as the proclamation was only recently released.
Board member Lisa Morrow noted that the Washington State Supreme Court had upheld the mandate after several attorneys attempted to fight the mandate given to state employees earlier this month. She said there is nothing that can be done to fight against the state. She noted that failure to comply could cost many people their jobs and livelihoods.
Acting chairman Ross Hamann had to quiet comments from the public multiple times before dismissing everyone for a five-minute recess following the heated conversations. Upon return, the school board resumed their regular business meeting.
The following is the latest update from the CDC concerning student and faculty safety:
Key Takeaways from current CDC data
• Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in fall 2021 is a priority.
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
• Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
• In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing.
• Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
• Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
• Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning.
• Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).
Letter from OSPI Superintendent Reykdal offers clarity on mask mandate
On July 28, Governor Jay Inslee announced mask requirements for the 2021-22 K-12 school year. The following day, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sent all Washington’s school directors and superintendents the following letter:
July 29, 2021
Good afternoon, School Directors and Superintendents:
This message provides additional details following the Governor’s remarks yesterday about the extension of mask requirements in our school facilities. The Department of Health (DOH) has updated more than just the masking sections of their guidance for schools. The link is https://tinyurl.com/mjue3da8, and I strongly encourage you to read about all the changes. In some cases, more flexibility is being offered such as physical distancing, symptom monitoring, and other cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
I hope the following messages are very clear and shareable with your communities:
1. The Delta variant is highly transmissible, and a growing number of young people are getting infected with and spreading the virus. Based on a DOH review of the literature:
•“From national antibody studies, we know that children do get COVID-19 infection, even if they have had less symptoms. National seroprevalence
data show that children (age 0-17) have the highest level of antibodies of any age group (27.8%).”
•“Young people have been infected and are spreading this virus, especially Delta, even though they appear less symptomatic. Because they are less symptomatic, they are less likely to be tested and less likely to embrace mitigation strategies in their public interactions.”
2. Wearing masks, for now, is an important mitigation strategy when layered with additional strategies, including vaccinating every eligible person.
3. The ongoing mask order continues to apply to public schools, charter schools, private schools, and tribal compact schools.
4. Under the authority of RCW 43.06.220, the Governor has broad emergency powers, and they have the power of law! As state Superintendent, I have a responsibility to carry out the law, and I intend to do so, regardless of how I might personally feel about masks, or any other requirement placed upon this system at this time.
5. By constitutional authority and RCW 28A.300.040, one of the state Superintendent’s clear powers is, “supervision over all matters pertaining to the public schools of the state.” Apportionment amounts and timing are shaped by additional law, but let me be clear: Boards or districts that intentionally disobey, dismiss, or shun an explicit law, including a Governor’s executive order, which has the power of law, will see an immediate halt to their basic education apportionment, and their federal funds that come through OSPI.
6. Any district that does not offer a full-time, in-person learning experience for each and every family and student that seeks it will be considered in violation of basic education rights of families, and will also have their apportionment and federal funds immediately halted.
7. These critical public health actions, including masking for now, are not at the discretion of local boards or local superintendents.
Local community members will always have the right to bring their grievances to their elected leaders, but in the case of these public health measures, they are not local decisions. Local boards of directors have broad discretion on the details of instructional delivery. They are not empowered, however, to override the legal authority of public health officers or the Governor in times of a public health emergency.
Community actions that result in board actions that violate the law, including executive orders, will jeopardize school budgets, local school personnel, and ultimately the opening of school to in-person learning this fall and beyond.
Individuals who violate the mask orders, or other layered mitigation strategies, not only carry individual legal risks, but they also risk cases and outbreaks in school that will warrant quarantines, school building closures, and disruptions in high-quality in-person learning.
You are leading education in a time where misinformation is highly pervasive. Leadership that is focused on genuine data and the common good is essential right now! Thank you for facing this directly and leading for student success.
Superintendent of Public Instruction