‘Feels like day one’: A look inside a local primary school as masks come off for the first time in two years

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SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Masks are now optional for students and staff at Washington schools. Two years have passed since teachers saw the full faces and smiles of their students.

Students went to distance learning in March 2020 and then returned to class in fall 2021 with mandatory masks. The Washington Department of Health (DOH) and Governor Jay Inslee recently changed guidelines to make masks optional.

The lifting of the mask mandate isn’t the only change at schools on Monday, some districts opted to go away with social distancing as well as contact tracing. Some families may also not see as many COVID exposure emails either, as the DOH says districts are no longer required to notify people of close contacts unless they are members. high-risk staff or students.

Each school district is different in the recommendations it chooses to adopt.

RELATED: New COVID Guidelines Are Available For Schools: Here’s How School Districts Determine Recommended Rules To Follow

However, masks are the biggest change at many schools in eastern Washington on Monday.

“It feels like day one,” said Ross Johnson, a second-grade teacher at Greenacres Elementary School.

He said the students were thrilled to be at school and the energy was through the roof.

He hadn’t seen students without masks in two years.

“There’s tons of excitement. The kids just smile,” he said. “Everyone is smiling, running towards me, giving me a big hug. It’s normal again.”

“A little first grader got out of the car today and said, ‘Mrs. Banks, is that you? And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me! Then he said, ‘Oh, d ‘okay’ and hit the road running, smiling and giggling the whole way,” said Vice Principal Becky Banks. “Overall a sense of completion and excitement with the children and families today.”

The past two years have been anything but normal, especially in schools where more COVID measures have had to be put in place than in other public places.

“It’s crazy to think about how far we’ve come in the past two years,” Johnson said.

Two years ago, Principal Lindsay Kent was scrambling, trying to figure out what to do and how to move forward when Governor Inslee announced school closures.

He said it would be for six weeks, but it turned out to be months.

” It was very difficult. It was very difficult for our teachers to understand how to teach online. It was very difficult for our families to figure out how to connect their children with teachers and learn,” Kent said. “The journey to get to this point has been long and full of twists and turns.”

While many students are thrilled to no longer wear masks, there are others who don’t feel the same way. Some are still nervous and anxious about going without them or have personal reasons why they want to continue wearing masks.

Banks put together a video with students on how to approach and help their classmates, who still want to wear masks, feel comfortable.

“We brought together students from different grade levels and invited them to discuss any feelings they might have about how they might be feeling today. How we would present to each other despite our differences and our opinions,” Banks said. “Focusing on this idea of ​​community and showing up for each other.”

Although the masks are now coming off, they may be needed again if another flare occurs.

Johnson said he was choosing to take advantage of what he could now.

“I think as long as we’re fair right now, and making the most of the opportunity that’s given to us right now, I can put that aside and continue to make the most of it,” he said. -he declares. .

READ: ‘It’s a huge impact’: New law will give more Washington students free school meals

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