RICHLAND, Wash. — John Dam Plaza was a sea of green on Thursday afternoon as hundreds of students and parents flooded the sidewalks to show support for the Richland School District’s administration.
This comes after Tuesday’s recent surprise vote from the Richland School Board sent ripples across Eastern Washington, effectively forcing the school district to issue two emergency closures to pave its path forward.
READ: Richland school board considers next steps after surprise ‘mask choice’ vote shuts down the district
Superintendent Dr. Shelley Redinger released a statement Thursday reading in part:
“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.”
Ralliers waved signs and lined the park amid supportive honks from cars driving by.
KAPP-KVEW’s Ellie Nakamoto-White spoke with some students who said they were frustrated by the board members’ decision.
11-year-old Rowan said “they should’ve made a better choice” while Holden Herigstad, 12, called the decision “immature.”
“It’s just embarrassing that people aren’t mature enough to make the right decisions and instead are just doing it because they just don’t want to have to deal with what everyone else is having to deal with,” Herigstad said.
Alison Van Billiard, a 17-year-old Richland High student, said she loves going to school so the repeated closures due to the board were frustrating.
“The whole thing going on with the school board has interrupted our lives so profusely. I just couldn’t believe that people were being this selfish,” Van Billiard said. “They’re thinking about themselves. They aren’t thinking of how this impacts everybody else.”
Van Billiard said she wishes the board members who voted yes would think about the entire school community rather than “just about the one person.”
“It’s frustrating on so many levels because they say that they’re trying to do what’s best for the kids but they’re putting us in danger while doing that,” Van Billiard said.
11-year-old Lillian Colley said she wanted to come out and support “all the people like Dr. Redinger that are trying to help all of us students.”
Her friend Deanna Drake, 11, agreed, adding that while wearing a mask wasn’t her favorite, the board should’ve postponed their vote.
“We want to go back to school by following the law, not breaking a law because if they would’ve waited for the law, they might say, ‘you guys can start wearing masks’ and we wouldn’t be in this situation, Drake said.
16-year-old Ava Robertshaw also called the vote “irresponsible.”
“The board’s supposed to protect the students and the community. Hearing that now it’s their choice to endanger my family? It feels really unfair and really terrifying,” Robertshaw said.
Richland Education Association Vice President Krista Calvin said the organization supports Dr. Redinger’s decision.
“That’s not because we want schools to be closed. We have not advocated for schools to be closed. We would very much like to be in school with our students and we want to get there as soon as possible but we believe that this is a mandate,” Calvin said. “A mandate holds the same weight as law in the state of Washington. We can’t put Dr. Redinger in a position where she is having to make a decision to tell her staff to come to work and essentially go against that mandate.”
Sara Watson, a parent in the Richland School District, said “the kindness in our community is gone.”
“The governor was going to lift the mask mandate anyway so I’m not quite sure why the three board members had to sneak around and do what they needed to do unless they thought they were going to score political points. I mean this is ridiculous,” Watson said. “People wanted our kids back in schools so badly, and now because of their actions, they’re not in school.”
Watson said she had other plans for her Thursday but with the school closures, she decided to show support for the administration and Dr. Redinger in particular.
“Her job is to protect and advocate for students and staff and at the same time take direction from the school board whose asking her to do something illegal,” Watson said. “They just need to be responsible to the people who elected them and that’s not what they’re doing.”
Washington mask mandate for most indoor settings ends March 21 + new guidance for schools
PRIOR COVERAGE OF THE RSD MASK DECISION:
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