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Masks optional for SPS students and staff

Summary: Seattle Public Schools will lift its current mask requirements beginning Monday, March 14.

Masks optional for SPS students and staff starting March 14

Seattle Public Schools will lift its current mask requirements beginning Monday, March 14.

While masking will now be optional, the district welcomes and encourages staff and students to continue mask wearing through the end of the year if that is their preference.

In alignment with Gov. Jay Inslee’s updated health guidance, the Washington State Department of Health, and Public Health – Seattle & King County, masks will become optional both indoors and outdoors at SPS buildings and on school buses (yellow buses). Please note: masks will continue to be required for students who ride King County Metro public transit until further notice.

Until March 14, current masking protocols will remain in place. Masks will continue to be required for all students, staff, and visitors on all SPS campuses and school buses through March 13.

We are pleased that COVID-19 cases continue to fall in SPS schools and King County. However, there may be times when we will need to bring back effective mitigations if there is an increase in community, classroom, or school-wide transmission. SPS will continue to monitor COVID-19 rates in our schools. Updates can be found on our COVID-19 dashboard.

The health and safety of our students, staff, and communities remains a top priority for SPS. While masks will be optional, additional layers of mitigation remain in place including:

  • Vaccine and booster access at SPS clinics
  • Students, staff and visitors must stay home when they have symptoms of COVID
  • Protected health care rooms
  • COVID-19 testing opportunities
  • Masks for students and staff, who want to continue masking
  • Physical distancing to the greatest extent possible
  • Increased air ventilation (HVAC) and air quality testing

As always, frequent handwashing and staying home when you are sick are still strongly recommended.

We understand that there are different beliefs, opinions, reasons, and comfort levels around masking, yet it is important to be patient and respect the personal choices of others.

Some families may have vulnerable household members or have younger siblings who are not yet eligible for vaccination. We will continue to foster a climate of empathy and equity. Our students and school community have been through a challenging – and in some ways traumatic – two years, yet our outlook is hopeful. We are grateful that brighter and healthier days are ahead of us.

If you have questions or comments, please use our Let’s Talk form.

Be well,

Dr. Brent Jones
SPS Superintendent

SPS logo graphic only

SPS Continuity of Operations Plan

Read about data points that officials are monitoring and the district’s outbreak response plan.

Read the district’s Continuity of Operations Plan

Frequently Asked Questions

If I needed one, where would I find the Mask Exemption Form?

Here is the SPS Mask Exemption Form

Are there still situations that masks are required at school by the Department of Health (DOH)?

Yes, if a student or staff person is symptomatic and using the protected health care room, in the nursing room/office, and in school-based health centers.

DOH also requires individuals returning from isolation to wear a well-fitted mask on days 6 –10 if they don’t choose to test.

DOH also strongly recommends that masks are worn during high aerosol activities. In alignment with this guidance, SPS is requiring masking during theater, speech, singing, indoor sports, and bell covers for wind instruments.

This additional recommended masking will continue through spring break and be evaluated.

Are there other situations that might require adding back universal masking?

Yes, the district has an outbreak response plan that helps to sustain in-person learning while keeping our classrooms and schools healthy and safe. If there is a suspected outbreak in a classroom or student group, Coordinated School Health in consultation with Public Health, will require both required student masking and testing. You can learn more about the Continuity of Operations Plan.  

Why does SPS strongly encourage masking when at the same time you are lifting the mask mandate?

SPS recognizes that masking is an effective layered mitigation. We have many younger students that are not vaccinated and optional, encouraged masking may support the comfort level of families as we adjust our approach to align with new public health guidance.

We are also committed to continuing to follow the guidance of the Department of Health (DOH) and Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) as we have for the past two years.

How will SPS address bullying associated with masks? 

SPS is committed to a welcoming and safe learning environment for students and staff. The personal choice to wear a mask or not will be supported.

Bullying and or harassment won’t be tolerated. If your child experiences bullying, please contact your child’s educator directly. The Social-Emotional Learning Team has developed lessons to support safe learning environments focused on choice, respect, and kindness. These lessons have been distributed to schools and are also available on the district website for family use.

As parents, how can we transition our children to mask optional? How can we help them feel safe and protected?      

The Social-Emotional Learning team has designed and provided transition lessons to educators. These lessons include why universal masking is no longer required by the state and Department of Health (DOH).

The lessons also include expectations that student and staff individual choices to mask or not, will be respected. As a reminder, masking is one of many layered mitigations in SPS. Mitigations that will continue include vaccine access, testing, strong air ventilation, cleaning, and physical distancing in common spaces.

How will the district address a new variant of concern or significant community increase in cases?

While COVID-19 cases continue to fall in SPS schools and King County, it is important to understand that there may be times when we will need to bring back effective layered mitigations, including temporary masking, if there is an increase in the community, a classroom, or school-wide.

SPS will continue to monitor COVID-19 rates in our schools and will use a centralized approach to increase and decrease layered supports as necessary.

How did you come to the decision to go mask optional?           

Seattle Public Schools has closely followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Washington State Department of Health (DOH), and Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKS) for the past two years.

By doing so, we have limited COVID transmission and severe disease while providing high-quality learning and welcoming environments.

On Tuesday, March 8, DOH changed their masking guidance. DOH no longer recommends universal masking in K12 environments except for in specific areas – the nurse office, protected health care room, during high aerosol activities (e.g., singing, theater, indoor sports), and school-based coordinated health care centers. As in the past, we have adjusted our approach to align with the guidance of health experts.

What layered mitigations will continue once masking becomes optional on March 14? 

Layered mitigations that will continue once masks become optional are:

  • Vaccine and booster access at SPS clinics 
  • Students, staff and visitors must stay home when they have symptoms of COVID
  • Protected health care rooms for isolation of symptomatic individuals
  • Required masking for specific areas (nurse office, health room, protected health room, high aerosol activities)
  • COVID-19 testing opportunities 
  • Masks for students and staff who want to continue masking 
  • Physical distancing to the degree possible in common spaces. Physical distancing will be evaluated at the end of March.
  • Strong air ventilation (HVAC) and air quality testing 
  • Central monitoring of COVID cases and required reporting to public health to reduce transmission
  • COVID data dashboard 

Students and families who are immunocompromised are encouraged to consult with their medical provider.

Are there virtual options available for immunocompromised families?

Students and families who are immunocompromised are encouraged to consult with their medical provider.  The waitlist application for our Virtual Options is included here

Social Distancing/Contact Tracing        

Why are you removing masking before removing other mitigations like physical distancing? Will other mitigations like physical distancing and eating outdoors be rolled back?

Masking is one element of a layered approach. In Department of Health guidance, masking was removed first. 

We will continue reviewing recommended mitigations and will remove layers systematically based on the current circumstances.  Mitigation strategies will be lifted or put back in place in consultation with public health, in response to changes in transmission in the community, classrooms, or in a school building.

Will you continue contact tracing?       

Contact tracing has been removed from public health guidance. There may be times where contact tracing may be implemented at the direction of public health in response to clusters or outbreaks. High risk individuals will be notified if exposed.

What is the guidance around kids who are coming to school after an illness or while experiencing cold/COVID-19 symptoms?

When an individual has symptoms of COVID-19 we will follow the DOH symptoms flow chart to determine next steps.  With the end of quarantine requirements, we are revisioning use of the district’s Test to Stay resources to support continued in person instruction.

With the changes in guidance and mask requirements, has the need to eat lunch outside for elementary school students been reevaluated? When can we expect our child be able to eat indoors?

Because optional masking is a significant change, we will maintain ALL physical distancing practices for an adjustment period. Physical distancing protocols will be evaluated at the end of March.  This includes lunch protocols.

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