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State superintendent says parents are divided on reopening schools

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Every parent has their own feelings on whether or not they should be sending their children back to school for in-person learning this fall.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, tells the Dori Monson Show on KIRO Radio that even a few weeks ago, the consensus was that parents wanted to send their kids back to school in-person, without question.

“We always said, based on physical distancing requirements, probably not every kid, every day. Districts just literally cannot meet that mandate every day,” Reykdal said. “But it’s shifting a little.”

The superintendent said it’s a little more polarizing now. Some parents are definitive in their answers: They want their children back in school, or they don’t want them wearing a face covering. Other parents see cases spiking again and don’t believe it’s safe to open schools up in eight weeks.

“To both sides, I say eight weeks is an enormous amount of time,” Reykdal said. “Everything has changed every two weeks, so let’s continue to plan two things: what opening looks like, following all of the health guidelines, and an online system that is significantly better and sophisticated. Let’s keep planning both of those scenarios so we’re ready either way.”

School districts are to follow health guidelines put forth by the state Department of Health, and Reykdal says districts will be following face covering and physical distancing recommendations in schools should they reopen.

Dori pointed out that the virus doesn’t seem to be affecting children the way it does adults. If that’s true, shouldn’t we open schools? Reykdal said that because most states, rightly so, closed schools early in the pandemic, there isn’t enough data to study the way the virus is transmitted through schools and beyond, to families.

The superintendent said his office and the state are watching school districts internationally and the models they’re using to reopen. He said the results are mixed right now.

Reykdal also pointed out that districts have to keep in mind the safety of their teachers and support staff. He said 7% of teachers, 10% of custodial staff, and 15% of bus drivers are over the age of 65 in Washington state.

The mental health of students stuck at home, often isolated while their parents are working, is also a factor in reopening. Reykdal acknowledges it’s a huge factor, but even the American Association of Pediatrics pulled back a little from its previous recommendation to open schools, saying that there needs to be a safe plan to reopen.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” as posted on the AAP’s website.

However, the next paragraph reads: “Policy makers must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in transmission of the infection.”

Reykdal says the goal is to get kids back to school, but to do it wisely. He encourages parents to reach out to their district now while they’re still in the planning stages.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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