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On Tuesday, the Kittitas School District received further encouragement to require students and staff to comply with the state mask mandate — a letter from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.OSPI issued the first official notice to KSD stating the district “willfully failed to comply with the mask mandate.”

The notice cited the Kittitas County Health Department report stating approximately 30% of students didn’t wear masks the first day of classes, and as a result, it was impossible for KCPDH to track transmissions.

The state’s first notice gave the district until Sept. 29 to provide evidence of of compliance to the mandate. If it does not comply by the given date, funding will start to be withheld, and eventually removed from the district.

The district, though, has already started enforcement of the mask mandate in response to a letter from Kittitas County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson who said the district would need close its schools for two weeks if it did not act to bring a COVID outbreak under control. On Friday the county had recorded 18 COVID cases in the district.

Larson sent an email to KSD Superintendent Angela Von Essen stating the district had a “uncontrolled spread of Covid-19” which “has made it impossible to do case and contact investigation of active cases in the KSD.”

As a result of not being able to track the cases, KCPHD had to assume everybody in the district had been exposed to the virus, and Larson’s letter recommended the district shut down and school be closed for two weeks.

The email also stated that approximately three out of every 10 students in the district didn’t wear a mask the first day of school.

Von Essen released a statement, Sept. 11, starting the district will now be strictly enforcing the masking mandate. She said the district had worked closely with KCPHD and came to an agreement to open schools Monday, Sept. 13 for everyone who tested negative for the virus.

“We cannot risk our students’ education over wearing a face mask,” Von Essen stated in the update. “The School Board directed me to strictly enforce the face mask mandate so that we can continue to educate our students without disruption.”

According to the update, students who refuse to wear a mask will be sent to the office for their parent/guardian to pick up and take home. Any student who receives second offense will no longer be enrolled in KSD.

This statement was released Sept. 11, three days before OSPI issue the first notice. It is unclear if this statement is proof enough to OSPI that the district is complying with the mandate.

Prior to the start of the school year, the Kittitas School Board had said it would acknowledge the mask mandate but not police it. Students who arrived at school without a mask were provided one, but students who did not wear masks were not sent home or separate from other students or told they could not come to school the next day without a mask.

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