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American News Jan 24, 2022 3:57 PM EST

School accused of creating 'VIP seating' for vaccinated students

The Post Millennial reached out to the school for comment and the school abruptly changed course.

School accused of creating 'VIP seating' for vaccinated students
Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA

In an email sent to families on January 14, the dean of Cedar River Elementary wrote: "We are fortunate to have a designated lunchroom, however space is limited, so we are getting creative to keep kids safe and on campus. We are utilizing VIP seating to ensure fully vaccinated students who are close contacts have the ability to stay safe, while also giving them an added privilege of recognizing other students doing the right thing by handing out Otter Paws."

The email, which no longer appears on the school website, quickly went viral, forwarded by furious parents and community members. Local schools in Washington state have made national headlines for forcing students as young as kindergarten to eat outside in near freezing temperatures and wet weather.

Parents who contacted The Post Millennial called the VIP seating awarded to vaccinated kids "exclusivity" and "segregation." The Post Millennial reached out to the school for comment and the school abruptly changed course.

On Jan. 18, four days after the email, Tahoma School District spokesman AJ Garcia told The Post Millennial, that the program was based on "the latest Washington State Dept. of Health K-12 requirements provided updated guidance for schools when students are identified as close contacts. Our Cedar River team was using that guidance for their cafeteria structure."

Garcia also said that "The way the updated requirements were implemented at Cedar River, students who were recently identified as close contacts needed to remain at least 6 feet apart from others if they had their masks off during lunch (currently, the DOH close contact definition in K-12 schools excludes individuals who are at least 3 feet apart when layered mitigation strategies are in place)."

Seemingly contrary to what the original email stated Garcia said, "These students who were identified as close contacts are the ones who Cedar River placed in the 'VIP' seating area. It was not determined by vaccination status. Those students were also not publicly identified as close contacts."

Garcia attempted to clarify that "Cedar River’s goal was to make students who were close contacts feel more comfortable about sitting at a table with more physical distancing and fewer classmates during that time period. That’s where the concept for 'VIP' seating came in. Those same students were assigned the role of handing out 'Otter Paws' to other students who are being strong leaders and exhibiting good behavior. This is what was meant when they said "doing the right thing” and was not related to vaccination/close contact status."

A video was shared with Cedar River families which said that their plan was "miscommunicated with families," along with a short written explanation.

Garcia added that "The message that Cedar River sent was not worded appropriately, and unfortunately caused confusion in our community. Cedar River sent an apology/follow-up message to their families to try to clarify."

The fallout was so intense that the school district met with the Cedar River Principal, their Dean of Students, and the district COVID-19 leadership, and it was determined that Cedar River will revert to their previous lunch practices with no VIP seating.

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