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Superintendent Reykdal: Phased return to schools is ‘building back’ support system

Lincoln High School in Seattle, part of the part of the Seattle Public Schools district. (MyNorthwest photo)

Governor Jay Inslee had set a deadline of Monday, April 19, for schools statewide to return to at least a hybrid learning model for secondary students. Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, said every district is poised to meet that deadline, and many are already back.

All Washington school districts on track to resume in-person learning by deadline

“If I just look at the plurality of districts, students are back in total around the state, but where most of the students are — we have 30 districts who have the vast majority of our students — they are mostly in hybrids,” he said.

“We have, right now, 280 or 285 districts who have been bringing back middle and high school students for several, several weeks,” he added. “We’re seeing it all over the state. I’ve have had a chance to visit some of those. They’re very successful — follow the health protocols, keep your masks on, of course. And with vaccines now quite ubiquitous amongst the adult population, it’s gone exceedingly well.”

The challenge, the state superintendent said, is that with a hybrid, part-time model, many families now have to find child care for the time out of school.

“It doesn’t particularly make it easier,” he said about the hybrid models. “But this is the right way to phase in that in-person and really build culture in schools again.”

Reykdal assured that sending kids back to school is safe and COVID-19 protocols are in place.

“Any time you have folks interacting who aren’t vaccinated, there’s going to be an uptick [in cases],” he acknowledged. “And I think what’s tough for people to understand is when we talk about a [fourth wave], it means there’s going to be a higher volume of cases again. But the hospitalizations are way down. The loss of life has shrunk to very low numbers, because so many of the adults who are most at risk are now vaccinated.”

“Even though we’re definitely going to have this virus with us and this disease is going to persist, its risk to the most vulnerable populations is dropping rapidly,” he added. “So we’ve got to balance that out.”

Reykdal also mentioned that the Legislature is pushing through federal aid to districts.

“That’s going to be enormous for being able to stand up some summer programs for families who want it,” he said. “Obviously, the fall is looking really, really good in terms of the guidance for reopening. And then the Legislature is poised to add … significant investment in more school counselors and mental health supports. So that’s really our priority right now, is building the expectation that schools are safe. But then addressing a lot of the mental health needs.”

“Then, of course, building back the very high quality academics that we have — the Legislature is working hard. They’re going to deliver great results here in two weeks or so, and we expect a very successful fall opening,” he added.

In terms of lost learning time, Reykdal says there’s dedicated money from federal dollars and will be state money as well to help provide before and after school programs, summer programs, as well as targeted learning recovery money for next year and beyond.

“It’s going to last 2.5 years with the resources,” he said. “So each school will have a plan. They’re going to submit it to us by June 1. They’ll post them publicly on their websites. It is all hands on deck right now planning for that learning recovery and acceleration.”

Personally, Reykdal says his biggest concern for K-12 students in Washington right now is building up a lost sense of connection.

“There’s a hell of a lot going on in the world and when you just look at the news every day and how instantaneous that is in front of them, on their screens, they can get a sense pretty quickly that things are unraveling,” he said. “And unfortunately, we need lots of those students to be in relationships with each other and trusted adults and contextualizing that.”

“That’s always been the partnership with students and families and schools is that kids are always in contact with adults who care about them and deliver a balance to this,” he added. “There are a lot of kids in isolation right now seeing the trauma of a pandemic, or the trauma of gun violence, and it’s tough for them. And so my biggest worry is their mental health and just getting routines for them and building back a system that can support them when they’re struggling.”

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