Monday, March 7, 2022

Dear BSD Families:

Beginning March 12, mask wearing as one of the COVID-19 mitigation measures will be optional at BSD schools. This means that mask wearing in both indoor and outdoor settings will be an individual choice for staff and families with students of all grades, with the expectation that others’ choices will be respected. The Bellevue School District strongly commits to our students and families that our culture is one of acceptance, especially in one’s individual choice, while we work together to ensure a safe learning environment for all.

Also, we strongly encourage families to talk with their students and ask adults to model positive behavior, as assumptions cannot be made about one’s beliefs or health status, nor should they comment on them. The timeline below details the phases and specific plans.

Over the past two years, students, educators, school employees and their families have remained flexible and adapted to changing health and safety guidance as public health experts learned more about COVID-19. As we move toward an endemic, we acknowledge the impact on our school community and reassure all that the district will continue to follow health and safety guidance from the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health — Seattle & King County. We anticipate that we will receive updated guidance from these agencies on the mitigating measures for COVID-19 in the upcoming days, which we will share with you as we implement them in our schools.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic and make strides in a positive direction, we ask that families please use their best judgement and stay home when sick, while continuing to practice mitigation measures when not at school. The district will also continue to provide related COVID-19 supplies for students, staff and visitors in our facilities. Other resources the Bellevue School District will continue to provide include:

We thank you for coming together to support our students. I am encouraged by our students and their resilience and the dedication of our staff in helping them succeed during this time of recovery. We achieve our goals when we all work together. On behalf of the district, I thank you for your support, Bellevue!

Dr. Art Jarvis, Interim Superintendent
Bellevue School District 405

BSD Timeline

March 7

  • Elementary: Outdoor school activities including recess; mask wearing is optional
  • All Schools:
    • Mask supplies will be available without charge to students and staff
    • HIB policies shall be amended to prohibit harassment against any individual who elects to use facial coverings/masks

March 12

  • All Schools: Indoor mask wearing is optional

Resources for Families

  • Consider discussing with your students why some families will choose to stop or continue wearing masks, including family reasons, social comfort, physical safety, health concerns, etc. Some of these reasons may include:
    • To protect themselves and/or family members
    • To communicate more easily verbally and nonverbally
    • Everyone in the family is vaccinated, there are no high-risk family members, and the family feels it is a good time to move toward ‘normalcy’
    • Masking is a habit and feels comfortable to continue
  • Ask your student how they are feeling about the updated guidance and assure them that all feelings around it are valid and should be respected.
  • Focus on healthy habits like staying home when sick and washing hands.

Frequently Asked Questions – Provided by OSPI and Adapted for BSD

Why was this change made?
Data show rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining rapidly in our state, and public health models show that, by mid-March, cases and hospitalizations are predicted to drop to levels we haven’t seen since last summer. Masks impact the learning environment, and with widespread access to vaccinations, our expansive school COVID-19 testing program, and rapidly declining cases and hospitalizations, it was time to rebalance the benefits and challenges of universal masking in schools.

Will schools continue testing students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19?
Yes. This announcement has no impact on the COVID-19 testing program in our schools.

Does it make a difference if someone is vaccinated or not?
No. The statewide indoor mask requirements will be lifted for all students and staff on March 11, at 11:59 p.m., regardless of vaccination status. Masks may still be required for those who recently tested positive for COVID-19, were identified as a close contact for someone with COVID-19, or for other reasons identified by the Department of Health or a local health officer.

Will the vaccination requirement for school employees change?
The Governor has not announced any intention of changing the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for school employees.

What about unvaccinated employees who received a medical or religious accommodation, and their accommodation requires a mask?
Barring updated guidance from the Department of Labor & Industries or the Department of Health, employees with accommodations should work with their Human Resources department on next steps.

Can a school district require masks for their students and staff, even if the state isn’t?
Yes, school districts may require masking for teachers and students. However, OSPI strongly recommends that districts considering this requirement work in partnership with their local health jurisdiction to determine whether it is necessary. School district officials are not health experts.

What responsibilities does a school district have if there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a school?
School districts are required by state law to report cases and outbreaks to their local health officer (this requirement was in law long before COVID-19).

What if I want my student to continue wearing a mask?
Barring a local requirement for masks, students and staff will continue to have the option to wear masks at school, with the expectation that those decisions will be respected. Those decisions should not be used to make assumptions about their personal beliefs or their health status and should not be commented on. Districts should not tolerate bullying of any kind of students who continue wearing masks.

What is being done to protect students and staff who are at greater risk of COVID-19?
Public health experts continue to recommend full vaccination and masking for those who are at greater risk for serious COVID-related health issues. The most important mitigation strategy is to continue increasing the number of students and school employees who are fully vaccinated.

What would cause a local health officer to start requiring masks in schools again?
Local health officers have always had the authority in state law to require health and safety mitigation measures in schools when the situation warrants it, and that will not change. Health officers will continue to monitor community case counts and hospitalizations, and they may add new mitigation measures for schools if they deem it necessary.

What health guidance does BSD follow and why?
Local school districts are strongly encouraged by OSPI to make decisions in partnership with their local health jurisdiction, and for BSD, this is Public Health – Seattle & King County. Additional guidance from the Washington State Department of Health and recommendations from BSD’s Health and Safety Team, comprised of district leaders, are also strongly considered in the final decision made by the Superintendent. Per OSPI, “locally elected school board members, who set policies for their districts, are not health experts and should not be making health decisions on their own.”

What happens if a school district stops requiring masks before March 11 at 11:59 p.m.?
School districts are required to follow the law, and the law currently requires masks in schools. If school districts willfully violate state law, they face legal and financial risks.

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.