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caption: Issaquah High School in Issaquah, Washington.
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Issaquah High School in Issaquah, Washington.
Credit: Google Maps

School admin's pushback against public health worries some Issaquah parents

As parents ready their kids for in-person school, many have concerns about Covid protocols.

For some Issaquah parents, those concerns only grew when they saw one of their school district's top administrators use his Facebook account to diss vaccines and masks.

Chief Financial Officer Jacob Kuper used his personal Facebook account to criticize public health officials’ approach of “masks, vaccines and limiting freedoms.” Kuper, who wrote that he himself is vaccinated, said we should, “let the virus become endemic and run its course.”

The consensus among experts is that letting the virus run its course — without slowing it down intentionally with vaccines, mask mandates and social distancing — would likely result in more people dying from Covid.

Tiffany Smith-Fleischman has three children in the Issaquah School District.

“When we see policy makers making public comments that are completely at odds with what is currently the recommendation, it just guts the credibility of the whole district," she said. "And this is just one person, in a very vital and key role.”

Issaquah School District Spokesperson Lesha Engels said Kuper was speaking only for himself. She said school officials hold varied perspectives, but share a common goal: “We want our schools to open in the safest manner possible.”

She added that Issaquah schools will follow state and county health guidance when they reopen.

But state guidelines leave a lot of room for interpretation.

“Maintain physical distance of three feet or more between students in classroom settings to the degree possible and reasonable,” the guidelines state. What seems “possible and reasonable” can vary wildly from one person to another.

With such qualifiers in place, parents said a school administrator who distrusts public health authorities could do real harm when deciding whether it’s “possible and reasonable” to hire enough teachers to reduce overcrowding in classrooms, or to hire more bus drivers to reduce crowding on school buses.

Kuper is in a position to make some of those of decisions, but Engels said those recommendations would ultimately need the approval of Issaquah School District Superintendent Ron Thiele.

Even at this late date, many staffing decisions remain to be made, Engels said, as the district may not know until the first day of school how many students will show up for in-person learning. Remote learning is not an option in Issaquah this year, but students can unenroll and join another district that does offer remote learning. Many of these programs are at capacity and have waiting lists.

Issaquah parent Cortney Eldridge is asking the school district to fight distrust with transparency. She said that in a meeting with the superintendent, she told him, “When you think you’ve given the public enough information — give them more. Because when people are anxious and scared about their children, you can never give them enough information.”

For example, the district has some leeway in deciding whether proximity of a student to another student who tests positive to Covid constitutes close contact.

Eldridge wants to know why the district isn't taking a more direct approach to contacting parents about all positive Covid cases. “We have form letters in our schools for head lice. Why don’t we have that for Covid? Head lice won’t kill you, Covid can.”

The mortality rate for children who contract Covid is extremely low, but some experts fear the delta variant is increasing the risk of serious illness and hospitalization. Scientists still need more data to figure that out.

Issaquah begins school for most grades on August 31.