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School districts to follow state’s reopening framework, adopt local plans

School buses sit idle in a bus yard on May 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, released a plan outlining a return to school in the fall for K-12 earlier this month. Representative Derek Kilmer hosted a Facebook event Monday with Reykdal to discuss the framework for reopening and answer questions from parents and teachers.

WA Superintendent expects school to resume in-person in fall

For those who haven’t read the entire document released by the OSPI, Reykdal provided a broad overview.

“We brought a lot of folks together on this,” he said, noting that community voices of parents, teachers, and students were involved. “It’s tough because it’s definitely a reopening plan.”

The guidance had to account for the mechanics of busing, nutrition, and social distancing guidelines, as well as how to meet the safety precautions mandated by public health officials.

“We landed on the mechanics of how to get school open to the best of our ability, but there were people who wanted bigger transformational things, too. So I do want to say, we’re not done with those either,” Reykdal said. “There’s a long way to go with using this moment to be transformative in our schools, but definitely the first phase is quite technical.”

While it’s not feasible to be six feet apart at every moment, buildings and classrooms will need to be able to accommodate students with six feet of distance. Cloth face coverings will also be required for students. Reykdal said he knows some are uncomfortable with this, but the department of health feels confident that even simple cloth face coverings help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The guidance also recommends screening all students either at home or at school.

“With that large kind of framework, the message is do your best to get planned up for school,” Reykdal said.

The OSPI wants buildings to be available for learning, but recognizes that for some, the six feet of distance required will make it hard for all students to be in the classroom at the same time. This means many districts will have to think about a hybrid model of learning, perhaps offering online classes for a percentage of students.

“Now each district has to go through that community based plan, they’ll adopt it by the local boards, it will be on file with us by the end of the summer,” Reykdal said.

He expects the rules and guidelines to be diverse by district, but within each district there should be a common framework.

“I think it could be real different based on space,” Reykdal said. “I hear districts who say we’ve got a plan, we can accommodate every kid.”

While others, he added, are jammed for space. Some have proposed an alternating schedule, or prioritizing face-to-face learning for younger kids while high school remains more online. Virtually every district, Reykdal said, wants kids to receive face-to-face learning at least part time.

Reopening schools is not a condition of what phase counties are in under Safe Start, though additional criteria for those in lower phases should be expected from local county health officials.

Reykdal and Kilmer also discussed the state budget, PE classes (holding them outside is the preference), precautions and considerations for choir classes, band, buses, and special education, as well as protections for teachers and staff, mental health resources, standardized test requirements in the years ahead, and expanded WiFi or broadband access. Watch the full video here.

OSPI’s website has additional information about COVID-19 safety measures, reopening guidance, and a number of available resources for families.

“Wash your hands, wear your face coverings, stay six feet apart, let’s have the best chance of opening schools that we can,” Reykdal said.

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