Superintendent: More ‘issues with adults’ over masking rule than students
So far, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, says things are going “pretty darn well” as schools have reopened but the COVID-19 pandemic continues. He credits the state’s rules, including on masking, as a big reason for that success.
Washington is one of a just a few states in the country that requires masks in schools statewide for all students and staff in the building.
“If all you do is look at empirical data, we obviously keep infection rates much lower in the state than other places that don’t do this,” Reykdal said Thursday on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “We’ve kept our hospitalizations at half the national rate, and we’ve kept our mortalities per 100,000 at less than half of the national average. So it’s working.”
“And if I can just be totally candid with you all, students are amazing,” he said. “For 99.9% of them, this is not an issue. They want to be in school. They want to learn. They’re adaptive and flexible. They’re wearing their face coverings. We didn’t have a lot of issues with this.”
The issues, he says, are more with adults.
“We have issues with adults who want to make it a political statement or an ideological statement,” Reykdal said. “And I respect their right to do that, but in the classroom, this is not an issue.”
Reykdal says what’s taking much more time and energy is the contact tracing efforts. He says there is an incredible amount of time and resources being used to call families when there is a positive COVID case. He adds that the state has very strict protocols in order to make sure that all the families of children who were in close contact with the person who tested positive are notified.
In many cases, he says, they may then have to quarantine themselves or get tested.
“That’s what’s causing us a lot of time and energy,” he said. “Not the masking issue at all.”
While masking has been more of a hot-button issue in Eastern Washington, Reykdal says it seems to be fading.
“The masking is going really well there, too,” Reykdal said. “But there are certainly more folks with a conservative set of values that don’t think this is something government should require of students or staff. And so, naturally, there’s a lot more energy about it over there.”
“It is mostly — it’s played out. They’ve had their time. They’ve made their expression of interest and, obviously, I respect that,” he added. “I think it got a little testy at some school board meetings over there because they think their school boards can undo a state requirement like a masking requirement or the vaccine requirement for adults at this point. The school board can’t undo that and so folks should really respect their local elected officials. They are not the ones making that decision.”
Over the next year, as there’s the possibility for a vaccine mandate for students, Reykdal predicts that will be the next thing that causes tensions to flare. But, again, he says, they’ll respect the process.
“But my goodness, for four or five decades we’ve had vaccine requirements for kids with a 90-93% compliance, with very little political ideology wrapped around that,” he said. “And it would be unfortunate if we did that this time.”
As far as the current positives, Reykdal pointed out that a year ago, or even eight months ago, very few students — as a percentage — were learning in person every day.
“We were kind of phasing back, but obviously dealing with lots of technology imbalances in the state, in terms of connectivity,” he said. “What we have now is kids in school, and they’re playing sports, and they’re in leadership and dance and music and theater and art. They’re loving the connection with their peers.”
“It’s hard, I’ll be honest with you,” he added. “For some little, little kids, they’ve been out for 18 months and so we see social-emotional issues that we’re retraining them on respectful behavior and raising their hand and all of that, but that’s just part of what school does. It’s going really well.”
Overall, it’s so much better in terms of the mental health standpoint for most kids, he says, though not all as some of them liked being remote. Districts are also now able to get kids who need meals those lunches and breakfasts more consistently, which Reykdal noted as another positive.
“And of course, we’re now looking at some data that’s starting to come in on academics and, like the rest of the country, [it’s] maybe 3-5 months of impact out of the 13 years we’re going to have these kids,” he said. “So we’ve got plans in every district now to recover there, too. So it’s really, really good.”
“If we could get more adults to focus their energy on what’s best for students and helping students engage in the learning without the anxiety of the political environment,” he said, “that would be better for kids as well.”
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