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Gov Jay Inslee schools in person learning
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Gov. Inslee expands COVID testing for schools in bid to resume in-person learning

Gov. Jay Inslee. (TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he will be pushing for Washington schools to reopen in person.

Inslee pointed to recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that in-person schooling can safely resume with masks, social distancing, and improved ventilation.

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“We know that there’s nothing with zero risk in this world, but we know that we now have the necessary tools to mitigate that risk,” he said, adding that the CDC’s guidelines “broadly align with what we’re suggesting in Washington.”

The CDC’s latest recommendations state that K-12 schools “should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely” in the event of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“This implies that schools should be prioritized for reopening and remaining open for in-person instruction over nonessential businesses and activities,” the CDC says.

In order to support this strategy, the state will be providing schools with a “Learn to Return” playbook, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to expand testing protocols, as “another layer of confidence to offer people.”

A COVID testing pilot program in schools had previously included 11 districts, with an additional 48 districts volunteering to be added this month. The hope is to use that expansion of testing as an incentive for schools looking to resume in-person instruction.

Schools will also have the support of the Health Commons Project, a local nonprofit that has been working to improve access in Washington to COVID-19 testing.

According to Inslee, the state already has 175 schools that have returned to some form of in-person learning, with over 200,000 total students back in classrooms.

Despite these new recommendations, local school districts have broad authority on choosing how closely they adhere to the state’s reopening guidelines. Families also have the option to continue with all-remote learning should they feel uncomfortable sending their kids back to class.

The Washington Education Association, which is the largest representative of public school employees in the state, issued a statement in response to Gov. Inslee’s announcement. The WEA agrees that in-person school is best, but hopes testing can be funded for all schools operating in-person. Additionally, the WEA believes educators working in person should have access to the vaccine.

Read the full statement from the WEA below:

As noted by Gov. Inslee, many educators and students are participating in in-person learning, and have been for months. We all agree that in-person school is best, and that it must be safe.

WEA would like to see this kind of testing regime funded for all schools operating with in-person learning and services. Testing is one of the fundamental pieces recommended by the CDC for safe operations of schools, alongside adequate masking, six feet of distancing and proper ventilation and hygiene. Yet, these are the same issues that many school districts are struggling to provide. As Gov. Inslee noted, it is educators who are the ones fighting to make sure these safety precautions are in place.

WEA continues to believe that educators working in person should have access to the vaccine, as is the case in 28 other states in the country. These basic precautions will ensure the safe operations of our schools for students, staff, families and our communities, which is ultimately what we all want.

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