Mixed emotions from parents, teachers and students as masks now optional in some schools

SEATTLE — Students and staff at Seattle Public Schools now have the option of not wearing a mask for the first time in nearly two years.

The district is among several — including Lake Washington, Issaquah and Bellevue — that are letting teachers and students decide whether or not they want to wear a mask at school.

The new rules are bringing mixed emotions after there were more than 100 COVID-19 cases in the Seattle school district last week.

In that district, masks are now optional in most spaces, including classrooms, during physical education and in special education classrooms.

School district officials said physical distancing protocols will be kept in place for now and will be evaluated at the end of March, but some are concerned that won’t be enough.

The Seattle teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association, is strongly encouraging all students and staff to continue wearing masks for now, particularly in crowded indoor spaces.

A representative from the SEA said no student input was taken and no bargaining agreement was made.

“It would have been extremely helpful to have more time for a transition in response to the updated Department of Health guidance,” the SEA said in a tweet.

The teachers’ union also said most students want to keep wearing masks.

“You’re in a class where there’s basically no social distancing. I’m really worried about our immune-compromised students,” said Seattle Student Union member Chetan Soni.

KIRO 7 reporters spoke with some parents who said they’re feeling optimistic about the change.

“(I’m) relieved. I know my older son doesn’t like to wear them. He doesn’t like to talk a lot with the mask on. So, if he chooses not to wear it, he’d maybe be more vocal in class,” said parent Rachel Jensen.

“We’re really excited for the opportunity to make the choice,” said parent Lindsay Janiec.

Masks are still required in some school areas including nurses’ offices and indoor spaces where there are activities such as singing, theater and speech.