Washington Governor Jay Inslee says school districts must now offer in-person options for children to attend school.
“By April 5, all students in kindergarten-through-six must have the opportunity to engage in an onsite, hybrid model of instruction. By April 19, all other K-through-12 students must be offered a hybrid model of instruction," Inslee said on Friday.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal says hundreds of schools around the state are showing they can teach children with little in-school virus transmission, so it’s time to bring them back.
“The exclusion from learning that students are experiencing as a result of mental health risks is real. It is very real. It is disproportionate by race and income. The grades are reflecting that. A quarter of our students are not getting credit for one or more classes in high school right now, which puts their graduations in jeopardy, their financial aid in the future, their access to post-secondary. This is a moral responsibility.”
Reykdal says 270 Washington districts have filed state-mandated plans for teaching students in-person and, as a result, are now collecting federal checks from the last round of stimulus payments. He says 35 districts, including Seattle, have not filed plans and are not receiving stimulus money.
Inslee’s message to them: get in the game.
“Schools are making it work in every condition imaginable across the state of Washington. So I don’t believe that Seattle is going to tell us that somehow the children are so different in Seattle that we could not make this work," he said.
The governor warned districts if they don’t have some in-person instruction now they need to hurry up. He says schools in all corners of the state have proven classrooms are safe places when the right precautions are taken.
School officials in eastern Washington want to vary from one of those precautions. Thirty-two public school superintendents and leaders from eight private and two public charter schools recently wrote the governor asking for some flexibility with the six-foot social distancing rules.
Inslee says not yet, but he’s intrigued by the idea.
"The World Health Organization has recommended a three-foot requirement. Quite a number of pediatric researchers suggest three foot would be adequate. The continuing tremendous success in what we’ve had to date of very, very, very minimal school transmission," he said.
Inslee says the newly-signed federal Covid aid package will provide Washington districts with as much as $2 billion in new federal pandemic money. He urged them to use that to help students and staff deal with mental health issues.