The Ellensburg School Board sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee outlining a path to local control over managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of September.
The board approved the letter at a special meeting on Wednesday. The letter is in response to Inslee’s mandate that K-12 students and staff wear masks to start the school year. Over the past weeks, members of the public have testified at school board meetings encouraging the board to defy Inslee’s mandate.
The letters states:
“Ellensburg School District is asking you to allow for local control regarding COVID-19 risk mitigation measures if ESD is able to demonstrate that we have successfully implemented all layers of mitigation measure and have no outbreaks in our school by the end of September. We would eagerly agree to continue working closely with Dr. Mark Larson, Kittitas County Public Health Officer, and to adjust our mitigation measures to align with his recommendations.”
School board member Tosha Woods said while the topic of the letter is COVID-19 mitigation, the core issue addressed is local control.
“This is a letter in this case is regarding our COVID situation but really it’s saying that in all situations we want local control and we want to work with our local partners and we want to take their feedback and taking into account what is happening in our county,” Woods said. “In this situation, I fully appreciate and acknowledge Kittitas County Public Health’s discretion and leadership in this topic and if in September they have a different recommendation for mitigation than I am open to listening to that community partner, but it is working with our community partners and not someone outside.”
Board member Hilda Peña Alfaro said the district is not requesting any power it did not previously possess.
“I want to point out that asking for local control is like having the same situation as we had last year, meaning that we follow the advice of Dr. Mark Larson and the guidance of the health department and that we will take that measures that they will find recommendable,” Peña Alfaro said.
Board president Jason White said it is his hope that what the district is seeking will bring the community together.
“It really feels very divisive right now and I hope that we can come together and recognize our community needs to get through this together,” White said.
White also made a plea to the community support staff during the school year.
“My hope for this would be a shout out to all of the staff, the teachers, the admin who have to enforce this at the schools, and my hope is the community will offer them that respect because they are doing their jobs,” White said. “They’re doing what they’re told. It’s a mandate. So whether they agree with it or not, they have to do that. So I hope before anybody in the community would take that out on a staff member who was doing their job that they consider that.”
Board member Meg Ludlum said she was supportive of the letter and this approach as long as the district sought the same high standards it has in the past.
“I think recognition of local conditions is helpful, but I don’t want it to be an opportunity for us to be more lax than we might otherwise be because of this letter or because or our being granted local control as result of this letter,” Ludlum said.