Students and teachers in Washington state should be looking to return to classrooms this fall — if the coronavirus outbreak doesn’t mess things up.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Thursday (June 11) every school should prepare to reopen and operate in accordance with social distancing, good hygiene practices and other health department requirements.
“We are opening this fall, provided it is safe,” he said at a news conference. “This will not be easy. The presumption here is we’re coming back.”
Next school year will last the mandated 180 days. But like the year now coming to an end, it will be anything but usual.
Students, teachers, staff and anyone else who comes on a campus will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and to find out if they’ve been in close contact with any infected person. Every student, teacher and staff members will have to wear a face covering or shield; districts must provide them to their employees while parents are likely going to responsible for their children.
Students will find desks farther apart. They could be eating lunch at their desk or outside to limit crowds in cafeteria. Some classes could be conducted in cafeterias. Assemblies and field trips may be canceled. Choir is going to be a challenge.
Local districts will fashion their own approaches for educating the state’s 1.2 million public school students. On Thursday, Reykdal released a 55-page guide to help them in their planning.
It contains specific guidelines drawn up by the state Department of Health, in consultation with the governor’s office and Reykdal’s staff.
The state schools chief said the presumption is districts will go back to traditional face-to-face instruction. But the guide contains options for operating for those that cannot reopen fully because they cannot meet social distancing or in-person health requirements.
Under one scenario, students would attend school on a split or rotating schedule. Another envisions a phasing in of some grades while continuing distance learning for others. A third offering calls for an improved approach to distance learning which is what schools have been doing since March when Reykdal and Gov. Jay Inslee announced closure of public and private schools to slow the virus spread.
Those options are largely the product of a 120-person work group Reykdal convened after the closure of schools that ended in-person instruction in late March. The group included educators, district finance officers, elected officials, parents, students and community members.
All school districts must be prepared to shift to continuous remote learning should they need to close for any period to preserve health and safety. This could be a result a confirmed case on campus or a community outbreak could precipitate such a closure.
Each school district will determine how its students are to be taught, bused and fed this fall. In Snohomish County, most are weeks away from making those decisions.
District reopening plans must be on file with the state superintendent’s office and the state Board of Education at least two weeks before the first day of a district’s school year. They do not require approval from the education agencies.
Approaches could evolve as the school year progresses, depending on the extent of the pandemic.
“It will look different around the state depending on the health situation in each community, but even districts that start off really well could experience an outbreak in their community and need to shift their instructional delivery model to accommodate that,” said Katy Payne, a spokeswoman for Reykdal. “I do think we will all be much more prepared in the fall for whatever is thrown our way, given the experience we have all gained this spring.”