SEATTLE - As students head back to the classroom on Monday, parents and kids have a question to ask: "To mask, or not to mask?"
"We’ve been debating ever since the Seattle Public Schools came up with the idea that it’s optional," said Sylvia Oketch, a mother of two school-age children.
After two years of a pandemic, Oketch told FOX 13 News that she’s ready to move into a life without masks – on Sunday as her kids played on the playground at Seattle Center, one wore a mask – the other didn’t. Her daughter still feels comfortable in a mask after wearing one for so long.
"Today we’re using it as a soft-start," said Oketch. "Tomorrow, in the morning, if the kid feels like putting a mask on okay – if through the day she wants to take it off because the peers have their masks off we’re just going to let that happen."
It’s a decision that comes especially hard for parents of younger students. In Seattle, like the rest of the state, the mask mandate dropped for almost all locations. Exceptions are still in place for public transit due to federal regulations, and in medical settings – individual businesses can still make their own decisions.
Walking through Seattle, however, it’s clear that masks aren’t gone yet. It’s hard not to notice both masked and unmasked faces even as you walk outside.
Ellwood Wiggins, another parent, said he and his wife will allow their children to make a decision on whether to mask themselves. They’ve both received the vaccine, and teachers have made it clear they’ll support families regardless of their decision.
"I’m feeling okay," said Ellwood Wiggins, as he laughed. "As long as the health experts tell us that’s okay, I’m okay."
Wiggins said both of his daughters prefer to wear a mask, in fact, both were wearing them at the playground on Sunday afternoon – though he admitted, he’s not sure how long that’ll last when they get back to school and see other kids without masks.
"They’ve talked about it, they say right now they’re comfortable with masks. I’m not going to try to force them to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with."
While all large school districts in Washington plan to lift their mask mandates this week, in association with the state’s change this weekend, a lot of extra attention has been focused on Seattle Public Schools. This month, the District reversed course to make masks optional – while stating they may "need to bring back effective mitigations if there is an increase in community, classroom, or school-wide transmission."
The move may have some parents happy – but the union isn’t. A statement from the Seattle Education Association stated: "We are deeply disappointed by Seattle Public Schools’ masking announcement today which is completely contrary to its prior statements and commitments to its educators and the community."
Districts have also reminded parents and students that optional masking comes with zero-tolerance for bullying about personal mask decisions.
The Kent School District put out a tweet on Sunday noting: "We expect kindness and acceptance for individual mask-wearing decisions and will not tolerate bullying or harassment."
They went on to note that masks will be required in specific circumstances, including for students suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 unless a negative test is taken after day 5 of isolation.
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