The Kittitas School District is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak after earlier saying it would acknowledge the state’s mask mandate but not enforce it.

As of Friday, there were 18 cases of COVID-19 among school district faculty, staff and students, according to a news release from the Kittitas County Public Health Department.

The health department said a plan to address the outbreak calls for enforcing the mask mandate, quarantining those who were exposed and testing.

“KSD will support and enforce the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s school mask mandate in K-12 schools starting Monday,” the news release said. Faculty, staff and students who were unmasked on ThursdaySept. 9 and/or Friday, Sept. 10, are considered exposed, and should follow options for quarantine and testing, the department said.

The health district said the new safety protocols are in place because of the increased spread of COVID-19 within the school district and the inability to do case and contact investigation due to the inconsistencies of mask wearing.

Masks were a hot topic in Kittitas prior to the start of school on Sept. 9. The Kittitas School Board and superintendent said during an Aug. 25 board meeting that while they would acknowledge the state’s mask mandate, they would not police it.

“Right now the mandate is you got to wear (the mask). That’s the mandate. But we don’t enforce, we’re not cops,” school board Vice Chairman Brian Stickney was quoted as saying in the Ellensburg Daily Record.

Superintendent Angela Von Essen said multiple times during the board meeting that if a student comes to school without a mask, the school would not turn the student away. In an interview with the Daily Record after the meeting, she explained that staff members would remind the student and his/her family of the policy, but that was about all they could or would do.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction learned about the school board’s comments the morning of Aug. 26 and immediately reached out to the district, reminding officials the state mask mandate is law, and the district would lose state funding if it wasn’t followed, the Daily Record reported.

The district has about 650 students.

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