WWPS first day of school

Sharpstein Elementary School first-grade teacher Gina Ruvalcaba instructs her morning students in the school’s a.m./p.m. hybrid schedule on Feb. 25, 2021.

Students and staff at Walla Walla Valley schools in Washington will be masking up this fall.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday, July 28, that his office is continuing the mandate that masks be worn in schools for the upcoming school year. This goes for vaccinated and unvaccinated staff and students alike.

Unlike in Oregon, the decision to require masks in schools is not being left up to the districts.

“This is a legal requirement that all districts will need to follow,” Inslee said.

Inslee said that this will help ensure that all Washington schools stay open for full-day in-person learning all year long.

“We have to prevent the spread of COVID — obviously for the health of our children — but we also want to keep our schools open,” Inslee said. “We don’t want to see waves of this virus going through our schools and forcing the closure of these schools. Our kids need to be in the classroom.”

The rules match the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

Inslee also said children under 12 not being eligible for the vaccine played a role in the decision.

This is not a new mandate, as masks are already required inside schools. Masks are not required outside.

The Walla Walla School District has been following these guidelines during the Summer Sol program.

Prescott School District Superintendent Justin Bradford confirmed the announcement won’t mean any changes.

“Nothing has changed for us from how we ended the school year,” he said. “We will continue to follow DOH guidelines and offer full time, in-person school for all students. I had hoped we might not need masks, but it isn’t a challenge that we do.”

Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, applauded the governor’s announcement.

“WEA believes every student has the right to a safe, equitable education, including students with health conditions or disabilities,” Delaney said. “Keeping students, staff and our community safe from COVID takes following public health guidance for social distancing, vaccination and masking. We must all work together to ensure that our schools are safe.”

Guidelines for the upcoming school year also encourage schools to keep students distanced 3 feet from each other. That, however, is only a target. Not having enough room to keep students three feet apart is not to be used as a reason not to offer full-day in-person learning to families that want it.

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in an email to school districts that full-day instruction is a requirement.

“While masks will be required to start our school year, the expectation remains that every family that wants a full-time, in-person learning experience will be given that opportunity,” Reykdal said. “OSPI will not send basic education funding to districts who attempt to force hybrid schedules or remote learning mandates on all students.”

Inslee’s announcement regarding masks at schools came at the same time he announced that there won’t be new mandates requiring vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in most non-school settings.

The CDC adjusted its guidance this week to recommend masks to be worn indoors in high-spread areas of the country amid the spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.


Jeremy covers education, as well as Dayton and Columbia County, for the Union-Bulletin. He graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2019 with a degree in journalism.

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