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Higher education implementing protocols for return to in-person instruction

Students at the University of Washington on campus for the last day of in-person classes on March 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Gov. Inslee issued a proclamation Wednesday to allow higher education institutions to put necessary protocols in place to allow safe in-person instruction.

Inslee held a news conference with leaders from the University of Washington, Pacific Lutheran University, and Whatcom Community College as representatives of higher education institutions across Washington state.

“Today’s proclamation is going to allow our institutions to put in place protocols and tools that are necessary to allow safe in-person instruction, we’re very happy about that,” Inslee said. “And no matter what happens to the spread of the virus, we know that students and faculty and staff should know that their return to campus won’t be in the usual situation.”

The proclamation provides health guidance for four-year universities and colleges, public and private, as well as two-year colleges and private career schools.

There is flexibility in the guidance to allow for a variety of conditions, as well as measures to protect students with underlying health conditions. Additional safety precautions are to be expected as students return to campus, including wearing face coverings, following physical distancing, limiting class sizes and gatherings, and monitoring symptoms. Universities and colleges must also meet state and local health standards.

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Each school will develop and implement protocols specific to their institutions and in partnership with local health districts in regards to housing, transportation, classes, and all aspects of campus life.

There will be measures put in place to protect employees, staff, and students.

Some of the possible changes Inslee outlined included staggered schedules, floor markings to encourage distancing, reduced seating in public spaces, limited cash payments, and fewer campus visitors.

“Our plans are based on the very, very best science and public health guidance and we relied on multiple sources for best practices on food, transportation, housing — we have left nothing unturned,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

The UW is expecting to return to limited face-to-face instruction in the fall, but Cauce did note that there have been a number of students who have remained on campus since March.

“We commit to faculty, staff, students, and their families that safety will come first,” Cauce said.

All of Washington state’s higher education institutions are basing their decisions on the same principles, she added, though plans will vary by school.

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