Virus Outbreak Washington State

Ember Kenyon holds a camera as bubbles float through the air, Tuesday, May 12, 2020, during a drive-up car parade to distribute caps and gowns to seniors graduating from the Tacoma School District's School of the Arts High School, which has been conducting classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(The Center Square) – Washington state education officials are looking at multiple ideas for how to resume K-12 schooling in the fall, calling the current patchwork of local districts providing different levels of distance learning “not a viable option.”

Schools have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus and will not reopen for this academic year. As of Thursday night, there were 19,117 confirmed cases statewide and 1,044 deaths.

The state recently convened a 123-member work group to study several options. It includes school principals, teachers’ union representatives, education advocacy groups and lawmakers.

“If we can’t come back in our traditional model a bunch of this stuff is going to happen at a distance again,” state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in announcing the panel. “That’s what we’re trying to model. What does the fall and next year look like?”

The group has said going back to the usual model is unlikely without the mass distribution of a vaccine or a drastic drop in transmission rates.

One scenario would cycle students through buildings for parts of the day or week so fewer are in class at any given time. A second option would include the same idea but also include online learning when students are not at school.

When schools do reopen, it will be phased in by county depending on social distancing requirements and the advice of local health departments.

In a recent poll of 880 Washington parents by the nonprofit The Education Trust, 86 percent said they were concerned their children were falling behind because of the school closures.

State health officials have said the coronavirus death toll in Washington could actually be higher than current counts. They have identified 3,000 deaths dating back to Jan. 1 that involved symptoms that are now associated with coronavirus, particularly people diagnosed with pneumonia or acute respiratory syndrome.

Because the deaths occurred before the first case was confirmed, they were never tested for coronavirus. An investigation is underway to determine if any  should be added to the death toll.

Republicans in the state legislature have asked Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special legislative session as early as mid-June to deal with budget issues, including a projected $7 billion revenue drop over the next three years.