(The Center Square) – Students in Washington state can plan on returning to classroom instruction next academic year, the state's superintendent says.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal unveiled reopening guidelines this week, which include special scheduling tactics that will impact the state's 1.1 million students and nearly 300 school districts.
"After an incredible effort by more than 120 people on a task force assembled from regions all over the state -- parents, students, teachers, councilors, mental health specialists, school board members, policy makers, business leaders -- we've tried to create an inclusive group that has a lot of voice on how to open schools," he said during a press conference.
Reykdal added that while the plan is to reopen, "it is of course a function of our health outcomes; we have to do our part."
Under the plans, students, teachers, staff, and all visitors must wear cloth masks while on school grounds, with exceptions made for individuals with health reasons like constricted breathing and other respiratory illnesses. Schools additionally will be mandated to maintain physical distancing in the classroom, hallways, and school facilities like playgrounds and open air gathering areas.
Schools also must have in place plans to identify and respond to individuals who demonstrate COVID-19 symptoms. If a student, faculty, or staff member has coronavirus, they are to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to school grounds or alternative child care facilities.
Schools will likely follow split or rotating schedules to facilitate as much contact time as possible and to maintain physical distancing standards. If such schedule changes happen, school start dates will also be impacted meaning that each grade will have different beginnings and ends to their academic years.
Curriculum mandates, following a similar line, will permit middle and high school students take at least three classes at one time besides six. Classes could also be twice as long to limit exposure and make up for contact times.
The plan was permitted via a proclamation signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
“We all want students back in educational settings, but we must continue to monitor health data carefully, and proceed with caution," Inslee said. "This virus is unpredictable and has upended our regular ways of doing everything. Therefore, if COVID cases spike or spread, we may need to reassess this plan. We cannot guarantee that school will open in fall. But for now, this guidance provides a path that schools, educators and families need to plan for the coming months and the fall. Kids need to be learning but they also need to be safe and healthy.”