OLYMPIA — In early June, my office, in partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), provided guidance for schools to safely reopen in the fall for in-person learning. Included within that guidance was a strict health and safety framework provided by DOH – the most stringent statewide framework we have seen in the nation.
Over the past few weeks, however, we have seen the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in many of our communities, which has understandably caused concern among some of our educators, students, parents, and guardians about our ability to safely reopen schools this fall.
This week, several school districts in the Puget Sound region have announced they plan to return to school fully online this fall. I know a lot of factors went into these decisions, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the school board members, administrators, classroom educators, support staff, parents and families, and community partners who landed on these tough decisions after important community engagement. These decisions are decided at the local level and they are within the bounds of the reopening guidance that we provided in June
Taking learning online presents challenges that districts will need to face. The methods of teaching and learning that were implemented across the state this spring will need to improve substantially. Every student and family needs to be better engaged and supported in student learning as well as the other supports that our schools provide.
We know that in-person instruction is the most effective model for supporting our students; however, the safety of our students and staff has always been our highest priority. For our districts who make the difficult choice to go online this fall, they will need to have plans in place to:
- Work with community partners to identify child care options for school-aged students whose families don’t have the option to stay home with a child each day;
- Address gaps in connectivity and technology access so each student has sufficient opportunity to continue their learning outside of the classroom;
- Continue providing school meals to the students who rely on them; and
- Utilize their local data to determine which of their students need additional intensive learning supports, and provide those supports remotely if possible or in-person when that is the only effective delivery method.
All school districts this year, including those who will provide their learning online, will need to have weekly schedules for each student, daily engagement or assigned work for each student, and requirements for daily attendance. In addition, all districts must meet the number of instructional days and hours required in state law, consistent with the State Board of Education’s rules on the definition of an instructional hour.
We knew in June that school this fall would be different than usual. We are likely to see many school districts decide to take most of their instruction and supports online, while many others will provide in-person learning within the health and safety guidelines. These decisions are made at the local level with local communities.
As a parent of two students in public school, I know the fall planning decisions are gut-wrenching, but each school district remains focused first and foremost on the safety of their students and staff. We all have a part in that by wearing our face coverings, frequently washing our hands, and maintaining physical distance from others.
The better we do together in reducing the number of cases and hospitalizations, the sooner we can return to more effective, in-person learning environments.