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Gov. Inslee recommends most Washington schools use distance learning in fall

Gov. Jay Inslee. (TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that his office is urging most schools in Washington state to consider enacting distance learning when school resumes this fall.

“If every school district brought all of their students back today, I believe we would see a meaningful and dangerous increase in COVID activity,” Inslee said during a Wednesday press conference.

Inslee emphasized that Wednesday’s announcement is a recommendation, and is therefore not a legally binding requirement. That being so, he separated counties into three categories in terms of what their plan for in-person classes should be: high risk, moderate risk, and low risk.

Twenty-five counties in Washington are considered either high or moderate risk for COVID-19 infection. Just five (Asotin, Garfield, Jefferson, San Juan, and Wahkiakum counties) are in the low risk category.

For high risk counties — those with over 75 new cases per every 100,000 residents over a two-week period — Inslee “strongly” recommends distance learning for students at every level, with limited in-person options for students with disabilities. High risk counties in Washington include King (92.6 cases for every 100,000 residents), Pierce (150.8), and Snohomish (86.8), as well as Spokane (86.8) and Kitsap (86.3) counties.

The recommendation for moderate risk counties, with between 25 to 75 new cases per every 100,000 residents, is to have distance learning for middle and high school students, with in-person learning for elementary school students and those with disabilities. Moderate risk counties include Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, and Thurston.

Inslee recommends that low risk counties — under 25 new cases per every 100,000 residents — have a hybrid model incorporating both distance and in-person learning for middle and high schools, and full-time in-person classes for elementary school students.

For both high and moderate risk counties, he encourages the cancellation of all in-person extracurricular activities.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Reykdal also spoke Wednesday, noting that the state hopes “to be more effective and efficient” with its learning models this fall.

“We’ve done a lot of work to get ready for this,” he said. “Nothing about this is ideal — the best model is in person. We can’t get to that right now if it’s not safe for our students or staff.”

Reykdal said that districts asked for framework, as many span more than one county.

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