Some protest masks in SW Washington school district by opposing levy

CASTLE ROCK, Wash. (KGW) — The Castle Rock School District in Cowlitz County has a levy on the ballot, but Washington state’s mask mandate has some people in the community deciding to vote against the levy in order to protest masking in schools.

Superintendent Ryan Greene said he understands there’s a lot of frustration over masking in schools. But in a letter sent to families in the Castle Rock, Vader and Ryderwood communities, he said the district doesn’t have a choice.

“We’re all frustrated. But to take it out on kids for something that as a district we have no control over is unfortunate,” said Greene.

In the open letter, Greene said the tactic of voting against a school levy in order to change state masking mandates is ill-informed and divisive for schools and students in the district.

“It is unfair to punish local kids, many of whom rely on schools to meet their basic needs, in order to make a political statement about masks and COVID-related restrictions,” wrote Greene.

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District officials said a previous levy ran for two years and the new levy would keep the tax rate the same at $1.98 per every $1,000 of assessed home value. If the levy passes, the district would get about $2.77 million next year and nearly $9 million over the next few years. He said local dollars from the levy are imperative for students.

“[What] our local dollars pay for are the supports that kids need. You talk about band and choir and sports, those are all things that are extra that the state doesn’t pay for, and our local dollars pay for that,” Greene said.

But some community members are pushing against the state mask mandate by voting no on the levy, or threatening to vote no, if mask requirements aren’t changed.

“It’s frustrating for us because we have no control over the masking mandate. This is a mandate from the state of Washington, saying that all 295 districts are going to comply with the masking mandate,” said Greene.

He said with the state paying for 82% of the district’s budget, the district has no choice but to comply with the state’s masking rules. Greene said the district receives 10% of its funding from local dollars and 8% in the form of federal dollars.

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“If we don’t follow the state mandate, then we lose. You know, for us in our community, we lose about $1.3 million a month in apportionment, and that’s huge. We would go bankrupt in about a month and a half, two months.”

Greene said for more than 20 years, local school levies have not failed because of tremendous community support. He hopes that trend continues.

“We have 1,412 kids in our school district and we’re trying to support all of them. And the levy is a huge piece of that,” said Greene.

On Tuesday afternoon, district officials said 20-30 parents and community members stood outside a school, protesting masks in schools.

Greene said if the levy doesn’t pass, the district will try again in April. Ballots are due on Tuesday. In Greene’s letter to community members, he ended the letter with a plea to voters.

“Please don’t put Castle Rock and other school districts across the state in an impossible position, requiring us to choose between funding losses: risk losing state funding or risk losing local funding. It would be a lose-lose situation for our students, families, and community no matter what.”

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