(Richland, WA) -- The following is a letter sent to Richland School District parents and others from Superintendent Dr. Shelley Redinger.

Dear RSD parents, staff and community members,

I apologize for the delay in providing some clarity into the current status of our school district. It was my hope that, when I finally did release a statement, it would be one conveying much better news. I am hopeful that the following information will at least help to clear some things up.

As a parent of a student that has been sorely impacted by the pandemic, a career-long educator, and someone that loves the Richland community, it tears me apart that we are in our current situation. My staff and I have fought very hard throughout the pandemic to get our children back into schools in the safest and best learning environments possible. It is heartbreaking to experience the current disruption when many feel we are so close to seeing a return to near-normal conditions.

With all that said, let me be clear: as the RSD superintendent, I am the one that has enacted the current emergency closures. It is my job to take direction from the RSD Board of Directors and to try and implement changes, within the legal and operational frameworks that guide our schools, in an attempt to comply with the Board’s direction. The Board recently decided that the district go to a masks-optional status. While I, personally, would love nothing better than to see our kids’ smiling faces in schools, the unfortunate reality is that I am unable to make that happen.

Face coverings are currently required in most indoor settings in Washington state, including public schools, by the Secretary of Health. The Secretary of Health’s mask mandate has the force of law and cannot be disregarded by any school district in the state.

As a result, bringing children and staff back to schools, while knowingly violating the current mask mandate, would be unlawful, jeopardize district funding and insurance coverage and would be asking all RSD staff members to potentially risk their jobs.

So, the big question is, why shut down the schools? Believe me, it was the last thing that I wanted to do and hasn’t been done lightly. It pains me that kids are not in schools and parents are having to scramble around the closures. However, the abrupt change in direction required that RSD administrative staff explore the legal and operational ramifications of going masks-optional. While it might seem like a quick and easy change, there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Also, we need time to properly inform all stakeholders of significant changes in operational direction so that everyone is on the same page. Having some staff and/or students showing up without being properly notified of the changes would most likely result in chaos and confusion in our schools. In the end, shutting down schools was a difficult choice from several bad options. While these decisions take into account input from many stakeholders, they are ultimately decisions that I make as the RSD superintendent. Please keep that in mind when interacting with RSD staff.

As the district noted in its notice about the emergency closure for Feb. 17, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announced today at 2 p.m. on TVW the date by which the state mask mandate will be lifted. This announcement will hopefully provide more clarity and I look forward to updating our community on next steps.



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