LOCAL NEWS

Gov. Inslee recommends Washington schools begin bringing students back into classrooms

Dec 16, 2020, 2:42 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm
Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington students...
Gov. Jay Inslee. (TVW)
(TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee issued new recommendations Wednesday, advising a large portion of Washington schools to begin a phased return to in-person classes, starting with younger students.

Inslee cited emerging data indicating that COVID-19 doesn’t spread as prominently among young children, and expressed confidence that stringent health and safety measures can help control the spread of the virus in schools. That includes wearing masks at all times, maintaining six feet of physical distance whenever possible, improved ventilation, and increased cleaning.

“Now that we have a better understanding of how the disease spreads and have developed health and safety protocols specific to schools, we are in a better position, we have more confidence when it comes to phased-in, in-person learning,” he said during a Wednesday press conference.

This comes after Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal had recently intimated that he doesn’t believe remote learning has been successful “for a lot of kids.” Beyond that, he also expressed concern that even given that fact, his ability to get students back into classrooms is limited.

Inslee expressed a similar sentiment Wednesday, pointing out that while he does have the ability to close schools for emergencies, he does “not have the statutory authority to make them reopen.”

That being so, he hopes that new recommendations issued Wednesday will give school districts the confidence to begin resuming in-person schooling.

Inslee’s new guidelines include a series of benchmarks schools should aim for, that go as follows:

  • Districts where COVID cases represent less than 50 residents per 100,000 people: In-person learning should be made available to all students
  • Districts where COVID cases represent between 50 and 350 residents per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to phase in in-person learning, starting with elementary and middle school students
  • Districts COVID cases are greater than 350 per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to bring elementary students “and those with the highest needs” back into classrooms in small groups of 15 or fewer

“Our teachers and school administrators have done a phenomenal job navigating unprecedented challenges,” Gov. Inslee said. “This updated guidance provides a framework and will help schools plan and prepare so that when the metrics reach the appropriate level, they’re able to resume in-person instruction quickly.”

High school students will likely continue learning remotely, with Inslee advising against returning them to classrooms until “areas see a plateau and decrease in cases.”

To help facilitate that process, the governor will be earmarking $3 million in federal CARES Act funding “to support safety planning in school districts, specifically those with a demonstrable need for more financial support to meet these requirements.” Superintendent Reykdal will be personally responsible for allocating that money so that the districts that need the most assistance are taken care of first.

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Gov. Inslee recommends Washington schools begin bringing students back into classrooms