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State DOH urges schools to reopen fully by fall as Seattle starts planning

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

The Washington State Department of Health released new requirements for K-12 schools on Thursday, pushing for them to return with “full time in-person education for all interested students” at the start of the 2021-2022 school year this fall.

Total of 182 COVID outbreaks at K-12 schools in state since August

Schools will still be required to employ mitigation measures, including masks, improved ventilation systems, and frequent cleaning and disinfecting. At least for now, the DOH also recommends continuing to maintain three feet of physical distance between students in classrooms, and six feet everywhere else.

That said, it went on to advise schools to “also have a contingency plan that does not include physical distancing,” in the event that it’s no longer needed by the fall. It’s expected that those requirements will likely still be needed for summer classes.

Shortly before the DOH released its new guidance, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones announced the district’s own plans for returning to full time in-person classes this fall.

“The conditions are right, the pandemic is slowing, and we have access to vaccinations,” he said during a Thursday press conference. “We are creating the conditions for our children to come back to school safe –it is imperative that we create the best conditions for our students, and I believe that’s in person learning.”

State’s return to in-person learning has been ‘very different East vs West’

Although the bulk of students will be returning to classrooms fully, SPS will continue to offer a virtual learning option as well, noting that “some of our students actually had great success in our virtual classroom.”

While Dr. Jones noted that it would “be ideal” to not continue to have masking requirements for students, SPS will still “follow the guidance of public health officials.”

As for what drove its decision, Jones said that the recent approval for the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in 12 to 15 year-olds “was a factor.” Details are still being hashed out, but Seattle schools will soon host a series of vaccination sites for eligible students.

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