Inslee Announces Education Recommendations for 2020–2021 School Year

Gov. Jay Inslee today announced new recommendations from the Washington State Department of Health for resuming in-person instruction in public and private K-12 education for the upcoming 2020–2021 school year. Inslee was joined by Chris Reykdal, state Superintendent of Public Instruction at a press conference.

Similar to the state’s county-by-county phased approach to reopening, the plan allows local health departments and school districts decide if and how they will allow students back in the classroom.

Note: The Shelton and North Mason school districts decided last week to start the school year with online learning.

“We know the uncertainty surrounding school reopening is a source of extraordinary anxiety for parents and educators — anxiety not just about whether it’s safe to go back to school in person, but also about the impacts to children if they don’t return to the classroom,” Inslee said.

The plan includes several different considerations for deciding whether or not to return to in-person learning, but no matter the county, when COVID-19 infection rates are high, the state strongly recommends school districts move to mostly online or remote learning.

“While in-person instruction is the goal, the health and safety of our students and staff is paramount,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “This new framework provides specific recommendations to local health authorities and school districts on when they could provide in-person instruction, and when they may want to consider remote learning as the safest option.”

“The decision to resume in person learning is complex,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, state Health Officer. “We want all our students to learn in person. To do this, we need to change our behaviors to reduce the spread of the virus in our communities across the state.”

The framework looks at individual county data and is broken into three categories of disease transmission level, as measured by the incidence of cases per 100,000 residents over a two week period: High risk, moderate risk and low risk.

Note: Mason County is among the counties with High COVID Activity along with Kitsap and Pierce while Thurston County is considered Moderate and Jefferson is Low.

The majority of counties in Washington currently fall in the high risk and moderate risk categories. For a full list of the counties and their status, click here.

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Schools in high risk counties, which see more than 75 cases per 100,000 are strongly encouraged to consider distance learning, with exceptions for in-person learning for small groups of students with the highest need in addition to cancelling in-person extracurricular activities.

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Schools in moderate risk counties, with 25–75 cases per 100,000 are strongly encouraged to consider distance learning for middle and high schools, with possible in-person learning options for elementary students.

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And in the five counties in the state considered low risk, with a rate of infection less than 25 cases per 100,000 are encouraged to implement a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning for middle school and high school students, and full-time in-person learning for elementary students.

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In order to implement in-person learning, schools must be able to implement state recommendations and state health requirements that have already been issued. This includes requiring masks, protecting those at higher risk of complications, social distancing and environmental cleaning.

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At all levels of risk, school leaders are expected to reach out to families of students who are most at risk of COVID-19 and those who experience and educational opportunity gap including students with disabilities, English Language Learners, students of color, foster and homeless youth and the youngest learners to determine how best to meet the health and education needs of these students and the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequities in every sector of our society and education has been no exception. One area of concern is ensuring access to high-speed internet for students in rural or undeserved areas. To parrtly address this, the state will be providing $8.8 million to help low income families obtain internet plans and address other technology needs. The funds will come from the federal CARES Act and will be administered by the Office the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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“This pandemic creates unprecedented challenges in our efforts to meet our obligations to equity in education, but we are no less committed to seeing all of our students receive it,” Inslee said. “It is the right thing to do and crucial for the success of all our students.”

Watch the full press conference below.