A Seattle teachers union is pushing for keeping the district's school mask mandate in place until May, despite the state and county no longer requiring masks, arguing that the forced masking ensures a sense of "safety and normalcy."
Seattle Education Association President Jennifer Matter told NPR-affiliate KUOW that the mask mandate should remain until at least May 1, two weeks after students return from spring break, saying there "should be no rush to lift the mask mandate."
"We have people who are immunocompromised, we have pregnant educators, we have educators who have children of their own that are under 5 years of age that cannot be vaccinated," she said.
This comes after Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced last week that the state's indoor mask mandate, including for schools, would be lifted beginning March 12. And King County updated its guidance shortly after the governor's announcement to say that indoor masking for schools and several other establishments would not be required starting March 12.
Yet, Seattle Public Schools said in a statement last week that it would maintain its school mask mandate "until further notice."
According to the district's statement, it must negotiate with the SEA, "as required by the current collective bargaining agreement, to arrive at a mutually agreeable position regarding any permanent change to mask use requirements throughout the district."
And in a statement, SEO claimed masking has become "routine and accepted" and brings "feelings of safety and normalcy."
"In our experience, universal required masking has been our most important in-classroom and in-building mitigation measure during this pandemic," the statement read, according to FOX 13. "Our students and educators have been wearing masks in schools for over a year now, and it has become routine and accepted. In fact, masks contribute to feelings of safety and normalcy that schools provide our students."
"Further, removing the mask mandate now fails the many students and educators who are immuno-compromised or pregnant, who live with someone who is, or who live with children under age 5 who cannot yet receive a vaccine," it continued. "A large number of children under 12 remain unvaccinated with disproportionately higher numbers of those living in our more socially and economically diverse communities."
It went on to say that it is important to consult with the students and teachers who are "most vulnerable" to COVID when discussing changes to mask mandates, adding that their needs are "historically dismissed in hasty moves to normalcy."
While Seattle Public School's masking requirement will remain in place for now, some other districts in the state – including the Mercer Island School District and the Lake Washington School District – have made masking optional.