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Superintendent Chris Reykdal says school closures could drag out into fall

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. [Screengrab from WA Gov. Facebook]

Gov. Jay Inslee and Chris Reykdal, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced Monday that all public and private K-12 schools statewide will remain closed through the end of the school year, shifting entirely to a distance learning model due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Inslee orders Washington schools closed for remainder of year

Reykdal stopped by KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show and The Dori Monson Show on Tuesday to talk about this difficult decision.

“[The] minute the governor decided to close schools originally, this was a couple weeks ago, we said we would keep looking at the data and whether or not the trend of disease and risk was subsiding substantially enough to make the call to come back,” Reykdal said. “And clearly that just isn’t the case. I think we’re ahead of most states in flattening the curve, but the duration of this is just simply going to be longer.”

Reykdal noted that at least a dozen other states have made a similar call, though that doesn’t mean the decision was an easy one. It’s a decision focused on health and safety, he said, while recognizing it’s extremely tough for the senior class.

To the seniors, Reykdal said to remember they have graduation requirements to meet. Each district has a plan, and they will be contacted if they haven’t been already about those plans.

“The local districts decide whether students have demonstrated enough compentency against the standards to give them their passing credits,” he said. ” … I am super confident they’re going to graduate and most of them are going to get a chance to improve their grades if they want to.”

Reykdal and districts statewide are already discussing the possibilities for a return to school in the fall.

“Short of a vaccine, which people continue to tell us is 12-18 months away, we have to figure out if it’s safe to come back even in the fall,” he said. “Will we see a spike in cases if we are all sort of released from our social distancing framework?”

If 25 or 30 kids are put back into a classroom in close quarters, and someone has the virus, it’s going to spread again very rapidly. Then schools would have to close to be cleaned, and there would need to be an effort to conduct contact tracing.

“So if that looks too dysfunctional, if not enough of us have gotten the virus and built the antibody, or we don’t have a vaccine, the return to schools are really tough considerations right now,” Reykdal said. “We have time. We have a lot of science working hard to figure it out, but I already have to start thinking about how to continue to strengthen our online model, which has gotten exponentially better over the last two weeks, but there’s a lot of work to go.”

The return to schools could include a modified distance learning model, or even a schedule that allows for more social distancing, allowing half the students to stay home while others are on-site, or an option for those who choose to stay home out of safety concerns.

The governor and health officials will continue to look at metrics to help determine if it would be safe for students and teachers to return to schools. Reykdal is checking with superintendents and principals to see if families would even feel confident sending kids back to school in this environment, and if the teachers, substitutes, and bus drivers would be comfortable returning.

For now, the focus shifts to online learning to close out this year. The platforms exists and connectivity is getting better every day, Reykdal said, though hardware continues to be a challenge.

Reykdal, a parent himself, offered advice on how to talk to your kids about this, making sure to ask pointed questions to get them talking about their feelings and what they’re struggling with, past just the surface level of “how are you doing?”

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Additionally, there are still expectations that learning will happen during this time, and he said his family is working to find that balance, making time in the schedule for education every day.

“As a parent, we’re all absolutely in this together right now.”

As a closing note, Reykdal thanked the teachers around the state for their hard work.

“Please take it easy on your teachers out there because they’re often watching their own children and trying to deliver instruction for their students as well,” he said. “Our teachers are just doing an amazing job balancing, but it’s tough for them, too.”

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