A senior administrator in the Issaquah school district took to Facebook last week to denounce the state’s orders for masks and vaccines, arguing the virus should be allowed to “become endemic and run its course.”
“What’s the end of the game with all of this?” Masks, vaccines and limitation of freedoms for how long? My family has been in Washington for seven generations and this is the first time in my life that I have looked down on this state.
“It only took 200 years to get rid of smallpox. Let the virus become rampant and run its course, it’s here to stay, ”wrote district finance director Jake Kuper in response to a public service article on the state health department’s cover-up. “So happy for the strictest Covid-19 mandates in the United States. I thought the Liberals liked the freedom… and the pro choice… oh wait.
The comments alarmed a group of parents from Issaquah, who said Kuper’s statements made them wonder to what extent the district would implement protections against COVID-19. Kuper, who said in another comment on the post that he was fully immunized, is involved in union negotiations on behalf of the school district, including a deal that covers health and safety conditions for the next school year. September 1 is the first day of school for Issaquah and many other Seattle area districts.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is a very ill-informed opinion and a dangerous opinion to share with others,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health official – Seattle & King County during a press briefing on Friday. “… Letting the virus run its course will result in an unacceptable number of people who will fall ill, develop a lengthy COVID, be hospitalized and die. “
Many school safety arrangements, including ordering masks and mandatory vaccines for all K-12 school workers, are not at the discretion of school district administrators. These are state mandates.
Through a district spokesperson, Kuper said the comments came from his personal account and reflected his personal opinion and not that of his employer.
District Superintendent Ron Thiele wrote in an email to parents this week that “all operational decisions are ultimately approved by me” and that the district plans to follow all Ministry of Health and Safety guidelines. State health. When asked if the district would take disciplinary action based on Kuper’s remarks, spokeswoman Lesha Engels said Kuper was exercising his First Amendment rights.
“It casts doubt on everything,” said Tiffany Smith-Fleischman, who has three children in the school district. “I trust my manager, I trust our guards, but they can only do what the district allows.” She and other parents say they are frustrated with the way the school district has responded to their safety concerns and the district’s decision not to offer a distance learning option.
Smith-Fleischman said she was also concerned about the way Kuper referred to “horseman” at a recent school board meeting, after a teacher testified that she was concerned about the way the district was calculating the distance between desks. Kuper said the district will do “much less action” to enforce distancing, saying using exact measurements is “so last year.” (He also said there would always be reminders to keep physical distance in schools.)
The state’s Department of Health guidelines leave this somewhat flexible: they advise schools to maintain a distance of 3 feet when possible and, when this is not possible, to use other approaches. including ventilation adjustment to improve air flow.
At the same school board meeting, a few parents testified against the requirement for masks in schools.
As the new school year begins, parents’ concerns about their children’s health have met with a backlash against mask warrants and other safety provisions. School board meetings were the scene of these debates, which extended into the night and drew protesters.
The infection rate in children has increased in a short time due to the highly transmissible delta variant, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics released earlier this month.
Cases of hospitalization and death from illnesses caused by the coronavirus are still very low among children, Duchin said on Friday. But, he said, he is still “very worried about what might happen when our children come back to school for in-person learning.”
In that state, the fiercest debates over preventative measures have mostly taken place in eastern and central Washington. On August 24, several members of the public at an in-person meeting of the Wenatchee School Board flouted Governor Jay Inslee’s interior mask order, appearing without a mask a day after the term of office took effect. The board moved its meeting online after 25 minutes. Groups of protesters also opposed the warrant for the mask outside the Kennewick and Richland school district headquarters.
On Wednesday, the superintendent of the Kittitas School District in central Washington said she would not exclude students from the classroom for not wearing masks, according to the The Ellensburg Daily Record newspaper.
Civil servants have more freedom to express their opinions than those working in the private sector. But there are cases in which the courts have ruled in favor of public agencies that discipline employees for speaking out. A local example: The 9th US Court of Appeals sided with the Bremerton School District over its decision to bar a football coach from praying on the 50-yard line at the end of games.
“He acted in a public capacity and in a way that violated religious rights and was against district policy,” said Hugh Spitzer, professor of law at the University of Washington.
To assess whether an employee’s words should result in disciplinary action, the government must assess the extent to which the speech impacts the employee’s or the employer’s job, Spitzer said. The consequences in Kuper’s case would have been greater had he been a superintendent or a nurse, or had he posted the comments to the school district’s Facebook account.
“But I will say that this particular CFO has probably reduced its effectiveness and its value to the district by exercising pretty bad judgment,” said Spitzer.
Washington state’s top education official, Chris Reykdal, warned this month that school districts risk losing funding if they don’t enforce mask and vaccine orders.
Washington is one of 16 states that have required masks in schools, according to Education Week. Several other states have done the opposite, banning school districts from requiring masks, although in some places, including Texas and Arkansas, the enforcement of those bans are on hold while they are reviewed by the courts.