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Washington lawmaker proposes swapping spring and summer breaks

(Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

With most children out of school for nearly a year, a Washington state senator is proposing that districts swap spring break with summer break.

Senator Brad Hawkins (R-East Wenatchee) says he wants districts to think differently about their 180-day school year.

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“I am a big proponent of reimagining the school calendar in the long term, especially as our state prepares to pull out of this pandemic, but this year is unique and also presents an opportunity for us to think differently,” Hawkins said on his website.

Hawkins, a father of two public school students and a member of the Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, wants public schools to consider stretching spring break into 10-12 weeks that students and teachers would normally take for summer. Then resume the remainder of the 180 school days in summer, in person.

By changing the schedule, Hawkins says it’ll give educators time to be vaccinated, COVID rates “will likely be down,” and all districts could offer full in-person instruction. The extended break would also give educators enough time to prepare for summer instruction.

“The state provides districts full flexibility on how they spread their 180 instructional days,” Hawkins said. “Most school districts would agree that in-person instruction is ideal. With the state taking so long for school employee vaccinations and few districts seemingly eager to resume their full operations, it makes sense to me to cut those losses, swap those breaks, and move ahead.”

He recommended districts use some of the $700 million allocated for K-12 education that the Legislature just approved in the $2.2 billion COVID relief bill to help negotiate a “one-time fix” for a summer schedule.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction said of Hawkins’ idea, “We support creative ideas districts may implement to maximize in-person instruction, consistent with all health and safety protocols,” according to KING 5.

Superintended Chris Reykdal told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson in early February that vaccines are not a requirement for teachers to return to the classroom. Reykdal cited data presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which points to a “lower risk of transmission of the virus by younger children” as proof of the safety and efficacy of resuming in-person classes.

“It shouldn’t be the thing everyone requires at this point in order to open, because that’s not what the CDC suggests, and it’s not what the data points to,” Reykdal told Monson.

Reykdal announced a new partnership, with a goal to have the state’s teachers vaccinated by the end of spring. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is partnering with Kaiser Permanente on the “Get Ready” plan, which will include 14 to 20 vaccine sites in both the Puget Sound region and Spokane. Those sites will be capable of offering vaccinations to over of 80% of school employees.

On Feb. 11, the state Department of Health released a study of 84 COVID-19 outbreaks across all K-12 schools in Washington state, both public and private, from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020.

In total, the 84 outbreaks included 305 COVID-19 cases. Of those cases, half were among students age 18 or under. The DOH says 64% of the outbreaks involved two or three cases.

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“There’s encouraging news here,” Laura Newman, PhD, MHS, COVID-19 Outbreak Response Senior Epidemiologist said in a news release. “We are seeing fairly low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings so far. The majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools involve three or fewer cases, and school administrators, teachers, and staff are doing a good job of implementing preventative measures that limit the spread of COVID-19.”

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