Could Delta variant impact return to in person learning for Washington schools?

With hospitalizations going up across the nation, including at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the question is what impacts, if any, could we see for schools this fall?

"We are seeing a rise in inpatient pediatric admissions to the hospital in recent weeks compared to earlier this summer. A higher percentage of the kids being admitted are to the ICU, rather than acute care units, which suggests that the severity of the disease is higher," Seattle Children’s Dr. John McGuire said.

The Kent School District is one of the first in western Washington to start classes full-time, in-person on Aug. 26.

"We are all strapped, all districts, including Kent," Kent Education Association President Tim Martin said.

Martin is talking about the constant need for more teachers, but they are asking for it at a time when another wave of COVID is dominating headlines.

"Today I heard from one teacher who has a son who is disabled, her fear and concern of his education, his health has caused her to resign her position," Martin said.

The more contagious Delta variant is raising questions about whether schools will feel the need to pivot away from 100% in-person learning.

RELATED: Washington hospitals 'quite full' amid COVID-19 case surge

"I don’t see any changes right now. We are going to keep looking at the data," Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said.

The top educational leader in Washington says the plan is still the same: all districts are required to offer full-time, in-person learning. 

When it comes to online options, it is up to each district.

"They don’t have to provide an online option. It’s really hard to run both modalities, but most are trying to figure out how to do that. I think that’s really wise," Reykdal said.

"Currently, Kent has no plan for online learning," KEA spokesperson Christie Padilla said. 

Padilla and Martin also say that a lack of leadership is making the back-to-school transition harder. 

KEA says Dr. Calvin Watts left his post as the superintendent with less than a week's notice.

Padilla says the abrupt departure is highly unusual since the school board had recently approved an extension of his contract. She says the community found out about Watts’ plan to depart after a school district in Georgia announced they had hired Watts.

KEA says it is uncertain when the district will offer any remote learning options for kids. 

RELATED: Homeschooling surges across US, even as schools plan in-person classes

Meanwhile, other school districts are offering both in-person and online options, including Bethel, Lake Washington, Tacoma Public Schools, North Thurston and Northshore.

Seattle Public Schools announced last week that they would not provide remote learning for middle and high schoolers.

With the Delta variant a topic of concern, the issue of vaccinations and schools could also take center stage soon.  

Gov. Jay Inslee’s controversial announcement on Monday mandating vaccines for state employees did not include public school workers. 

Teachers are employed by each local district but funded by state dollars.

Reykdal says if Inslee mandated vaccines for public school workers, he would support it.

"Although it’s not my decision, if I were in his seat, I would in fact support and advocate statewide vaccine mandate of all public employees," Reykdal said. 

Reykdal says his office does not formally track the vaccination rate for public school workers. According to informal surveys, OSPI believes more than 70% of certified teachers are vaccinated. 

The Washington Education Association t7old Q13 News on Tuesday that their members would have to follow the order, if the Governor made vaccines a mandate for educators.

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