Seattle vets school options for fall, may return to class

SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle school district says it will soon decide how the next school year will operate given the current coronavirus pandemic.

The district moved largely online since it first shut down all buildings on March 12 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Gov. Jay Inslee on April 6 issued an emergency order to keep schools across the state closed through the end of the school year.

Washington state’s largest school system, which has about 50,000 students, announced Tuesday that it’s considering three options, including fully remote learning.

Seattle Public Schools is also considering an option for the fall that would have children in pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade on campus full-time, while students in middle and high school grades take on an alternating schedule where they would spend part of their time in-person and the other part would be remote learning.

The third option is for all students in all grades to split their time between the classroom and online.

Tim Robinson, a Seattle schools spokesman, said the district is working to decide how school will be physically carried out for the 2020-21 school year, but that the details of how exactly students will learn in those capacities will take much longer to formulate.

“This whole effort is not to be confused with the curriculum, or how to go about educating, or the teaching process,” Robinson said. “It’s establishing the physical aspect of how we will proceed.”

The district is now beginning an intensive two-week process to vet the three options and is expected to announce its decision by the last day of school on June 19.

Robinson said it’s still finalizing who will be a part of the four-team committees that will deliberate and then make a recommendation to the district superintendent. Each team will consist of 18 members, including parents, teachers, community members and staff.

Katy Payne, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the state education department isn’t currently tracking how individual school districts plan to proceed.

But she said Seattle’s options are aligned with the state’s pending recommendations, which will be announced on Monday.

The state’s guidance so far has nixed the idea of re-starting school with traditional, full-time on-site instruction, and also acknowledges that remote learning as it commenced this spring is not acceptable going forward.

The unprecedented transition to online learning happened under dire unforeseen circumstances, and has been universally frustrating for families, teachers and districts across the country. More than ever, it also has exposed and exacerbated inequities in education.

“Remote learning as practiced by Seattle and any school district is going to evolve,” Robinson said. “And by necessity, it’s going to get better.”

The Washington Education Association said there is no consensus among its members on how best to re-start school but that flexibility will be key for teachers making the adjustment.

“For every person I’ve talked to or heard from who is chomping to get back into the building, there are folks who are older and who have underlying health concerns who want to work but are terrified of going back,” said Linda Mullen, spokeswoman for the statewide teachers union.