State education chief says he expects students to return to school this fall

OLYMPIA -- The state's education chief said Thursday he expects all districts in the state to welcome students back to school this fall.

But the state cannot guarantee that every student will be back in the classroom Monday through Friday for the same hours they are used to.

What a child's school day looks like will vary by district. It will also depend on whether or not school districts will be able to meet the health requirements set by state Office of Public Instruction (OPSI).

The guidelines were created by a work group consisting of more than 100 people many of them educators.

Chris Reykdal, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, spoke to reporters following the release of a 55-page planning guide for reopening schools.

Reykdal said the priority is to bring all kids back to school, face-to-face with teachers in the classroom. But if physical distancing measures cannot be met, the state will offer three models for districts to consider:

    Although full-time remote learning is listed as an option in the guidance, Reykdal made clear that "it is my expectation that schools will open this fall for in-person instruction."

    Teachers, students and parents have struggled to adjust to at-home learning in the three months since schools closed statewide in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It's especially challenging for low-income students and families who don't have access to high-speed internet and other crucial technology, as well as families with caregivers who aren't working from home.

    The report lists many health guidelines that schools will need to meet:

      Schools will also have to limit the number of students gathering for meals and assemblies.

      Some of the guidelines are left up to interpretation for school districts because they are somewhat vague. For example, OSPI is not saying how many kids can be in a classroom.

      OSPI says school districts will have to work with their local health departments to figure out how to enforce health and safety rules.

      "For some communities, the health guidelines will not be able to be met," Reykdal said.

      The rules also apply to private schools.

      As for enforcement, OSPI says every school district will have to submit their plan of reopening to the state, and it has to be reviewed before classes can start.

      Any school district in counties that are in Phase 1 or modified Phase 1 of reopening will have to jump through an extra hurdle to resume classes.

      Those school districts will be required to submit their plan to their local health departments and health experts will have to sign off on the district's plan to reopen.

      After the guidelines were released, several districts told Q13 News on Thursday that they are surveying their communities on the best steps forward.

      Seattle Public Schools expects to announce its reopening plan before the end of June.

      Meanwhile, Tacoma Public Schools said they needed more time to absorb the guidelines before making a comment.

      The state says every district will also have to be prepared to do a quick transition from in-person learning to remote learning if a second wave of COVID-19 were to shut schools down again.

      "The science will determine that," Reykdal said.

      On the same day that OSPI released its report, UW Medicine's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation held a press conference with their latest projections.

      IHME says a second wave of COVID-19 is expected to start in the U.S. on Sept. 15.