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What Washington schools might look like in the fall

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With in-person schooling suspended for the year, the big question is what happens in the fall? Already there are concerns from numerous health experts that there could be a resurgence of coronavirus cases. To get a sense of what this new reality could look like for schools in Washington state, KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula spoke with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

What kind of options is he considering for different districts next year?

“It looks like it will be some kind of a menu based on a lot more localization. Caseloads are different around the state, population densities, whether you’re in elementary school can look very different than high school,” Reykdal said.

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“You can imagine things from — if the health allows it — a traditional open. If the health doesn’t allow that kind of density of students in the classrooms, it could be alternating schedules, either every other day or every other week, every one of these things creates a solution and, simultaneously, a challenge.”

The goal is to find a system that negotiates the line between health concerns and the needs of parents and students.

“Everyone is struggling in this planning group and across the country to figure out how do you best meet the needs of parents and maintain continuous learning in a way that makes sense,” Reykdal said. “So there will be six, seven, eight options at this point, and then variations of those options, including some more online learning.”

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“There are some people who say make all the elementary kids go back to school, face to face,” Reykdal said. “They need it the most. And put your high school kids in online programs. But heck, there’s a lot of high school kids who need face to face, too. So no answers yet for sure, just exploring the models right now.”

Asking young people to manage learning is difficult

What is the biggest challenge in learning he’s observed in the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic?

“The biggest challenge is the isolation. You’re asking a bunch of young people who, by definition, are developing physically, and mentally, and emotionally … and still creating who they are in the world — you’re asking them to take almost total control of their learning on their own,” he said.

“No country, no nation, no state does that,” Reykdal added. “We believe the best place for kids is in a more structured environment of school, where they get the routine. They get pushed by good teachers, they get nutrition. There may be mental health supports, maybe nursing supports. So the challenge has been just deploying learning in an environment that was never designed for learning.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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