Vancouver’s Steven Webb, Evergreen’s Mike Merlino, Battle Ground’s Mark Ross and Hockinson’s Steven Marshall each signed letter to Gov. Jay Inslee
A large number of school superintendents from around Washington state, including four from Clark County, recently signed a letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee asking for the governor to issue an Executive Order protecting schools from COVID-19 liability.
The letter (dated July 24) was penned by Deborah Callahan, executive director, Washington Schools Risk Management Pool; and Richard McBride, director risk management, Clear Risk Solutions and signed by dozens of school superintendents around the state including Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steven Webb, Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent Mike Merlino, Battle Ground Public Schools Superintendent Mark Ross and Hockinson School District Superintendent Steven Marshall.
“The purpose of this communication is to request that you, as the Governor, issue an Executive Order protecting schools from COVID-19 liability,’’ the letter stated. “The Educational Service Districts (ESDs) and public schools of Washington State agree with your message that in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are all in this together. When you ordered all schools to close in March, you also called on ESDs and public schools to step up in extraordinary ways during that closure to meet emergency community needs. We did step up, from becoming overnight daycare centers so healthcare workers and first responders could go to work and save lives, to finding creative ways to feed hungry families throughout our school districts. At the same time, we were developing online learning systems and working to improve equity and access gaps.
“Now we face even greater challenges as we thoughtfully plan to return to school in September,’’ the letter continued. “If you want us to provide an equitable opportunity to a quality K-12 education, as safely as we can in the midst of a pandemic, then we need your help.’’
School districts around the state are currently finalizing plans to open the school year with remote learning. Battle Ground’s Board of Directors finalized its plan Monday night and Evergreen and Vancouver have Tuesday meetings where they are expected to do the same.
In the letter, the educators said they are being asked to do the impossible.
“Everything we have done to meet community needs since schools closed in March has cost substantial money and has exposed us to substantial new legal liability exposure. In planning for school year 2020- 21, we are being asked to do the impossible — provide an equitable quality education and related services to every student, while keeping all students and staff safe in the midst of a pandemic, all without meaningful financial assistance from the State,’’ the letter stated. “We need substantial financial assistance, and every critical dollar allocated to schools must be used to fulfill the State’s paramount duty to educate the children of Washington State as safely as we can in the midst of a health crisis. These limited public funds cannot be diverted to costly new litigation and liability exposure arising from the COVID-19 pandemic without sacrificing equitable education and safety. That’s why we are calling on you, Governor Inslee, to issue an emergency Executive Order protecting schools and ESDs from COVID-19 liability.’’
The need for that specific Executive Order by the governor was rejected by the WEA-Riverside Uniserv Council Equity Committee and Executive Board in a letter sent Monday to Callahan, McBride and the co-signed superintendents.
“On behalf of the nearly 5,000 educators of the WEA-Riverside Council, we reject the misplaced priorities of superintendents focusing on appeasing insurance adjusters instead of committing to the health and safety of the learning environments in which they oversee,’’ that letter stated. “In fact, this sends a clear message to the public that district leadership have no confidence in their plans to safely reopen facilities.
“The science is clear that COVID-19 is a mutating, aerosol spreading virus that is highly contagious in creating superspreader events of infection at schools in children and adults,’’ the WEA letter stated. “We reserve the community’s right to hold school districts publicly accountable for the illness and death of any Washington State family member from an inadequate and unfunded reopening plan. We encourage school leaders to focus on advocating for resources and policies to address inequities in remote learning so that educators are ready to teach, students are ready to learn, and families are equipped to support them.’’