Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced Dec. 16 an update in the metrics used to inform local school district decisions for in-person learning. They also announced $3 million from set aside funds to be distributed to implement health and safety protocols.
The Department of Health suggests three categories for re-introducing in-person learning:
• For schools in counties where COVID-19 cases are “low” (less than 50 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be made available for all students.
• In counties where COVID-19 cases are “moderate” (between 50 and 350 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be phased in, starting with elementary students not already attending in person and middle school students, followed by high school students.
• In counties where COVID-19 cases are “high” (over 350 per 100,000 residents), it’s recommended that schools should only offer in-person instruction for elementary and high-need students in small groups of 15 students or fewer.
As of Dec. 16, King County reported 406 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the county health department’s COVID-19 dashboard. That puts King County schools in the “high” category.
The governor announced $3 million from set aside funds that he will direct to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to support health and safety work in Washington schools. This money will help fund third-party safety audits and support the staff in districts in need for more financial support in meeting safety requirements, according to the governor’s office.
Superintendent Reykdal said this funding is much needed to get students back into schools safely and that this move toward in-person learning will help students succeed.
“Our state has some of the most stringent health and safety protocols for schools in the nation, and those are working to limit the spread of the virus in our schools,” Reykdal said in the announcement. “Most students do best in the traditional in-person school environment with their peers and educators. With the science and data showing us we can do this safely, I am confident we should begin moving more of our students back to the physical classroom.”
At the Dec. 16 press conference, the governor said he will issue an accompanying proclamation requiring schools by law to implement health and safety measures, and mandates staff involvement in health and safety related decisions.
“I have sought the opinions of state and local education administrators, as well as educators, staff, parents and school boards. And today, we are providing them more clarity and confidence in getting students back in the classroom,” Inslee said during the press conference. “Many people’s lives revolve around a regular school schedule and, apart from the academics, schools provide social supports that advance healthy childhood development.”