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WA Superintendent: Why decision for in-person classes was left up to school boards

Fourth grade teacher Krileshia Boyd speaks to her students at Northeast Lauderdale Elementary School in Lauderdale County, Miss., Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (Bill Graham/The Meridian Star via AP)

A lot of parents are frustrated that most districts in Washington state will be employing remote learning to educate kids to start the school year. Why is the state taking this approach when many other states are resuming in-person learning? Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal joined the Dori Monson Show to discuss.

“Well, our state Department of Health and our governor has issued a framework. So this is obviously under the control of the governor, and they have created this high, medium, and low risk category framework for school openings. Again, it’s a strong suggestion. Local boards can choose right now whether they want to open, but they are following this health guideline pretty much across the board,” he said.

“So we’ve got about seven districts in the state going full in-person. We’ve got several dozen doing a hybrid kind of a mixed model, and most of them starting remotely. But those are ultimately local school board decisions right now because the governor didn’t mandate closures; he said you can open, but you really should follow these health guidelines.”

Majority of Washington students will be starting school year fully remote

Dori said he hasn’t seen a great deal of scientific evidence to suggest that schools should remain closed, since in countries where schools have reopened, there hasn’t been much kid to adult coronavirus transmission. So for the counties that are even high risk, why not open up school for in-person learning there as well?

“They could, that’s their option right now. I think they’re not doing that because I don’t think they believe that evidence is that one-sided. I think there’s obviously now evidence all over Georgia, Florida, and Texas where they opened and there’s lots of transmission of the students and staff, and they don’t know whether that’s an origin of kids to staff or staff to students. But I just believe that folks feel on balance right now in those communities that it’s not the safest option,” Reykdal said.

“They’re prepared to be fully in school because we planned for it all summer when our cases were so low. But after Fourth of July, it really spiked.”

A recent CDC report found an increase in suicidal thoughts and substance abuse among teens during the coronavirus pandemic. Should this not be a bigger factor in the equation when considering reopening schools?

“I think it should be. And here’s my frustration is we have specifically asked the CDC for that data and it doesn’t exist … they’ve shown us no data to prove that. So I think that’s why that’s not permeating the thinking of local school districts enough … I, like you, truly worry about the isolation of kids at home — probably not as much in the summer because families are used to that — but as we go back to school, I’m worried about this. I have two teens of my own and they’re handling it very differently. And so it’s personal to me,” Reykdal said.

“I want to see the data. I think it should impact our decision making around that. But it can’t be speculation from the CDC,” he added.

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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