State: Schools must plan for in-person learning this fall, masks should be worn

The Washington State Department of Health on Thursday released long-awaited guidance for schools to fully return students back to the classroom this fall.

The plan for the 2021-22 school year says masks should be worn in the classroom and social distancing of 3 or 6 feet should continue.

Schools should also have plans in place for at-home learning to continue in case families choose that option or if they need to quarantine.

Districts are being urged to consider COVID-19 testing systems as well.

"Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being. They provide children with academic instruction, support for developing social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition and more," said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. "We are releasing this guidance early to give the schools districts in Washington the opportunity to put plans in place for a safe and successful 2021-2022 school year."

RELATED: Washington state expands use of Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 years old and older

Here's a look at the updated guidance for summer 2021 and the next school year as provided by the state:

  • All students, school personnel, volunteers, and visitors must wear at least a cloth face covering or an acceptable alternative when indoors, as well as outdoors where a minimum of six feet distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Schools must have basic ventilation, cleaning and infection control plans updated to reflect what is currently known about COVID-19.
  • In preparation for the potential of COVID-19 infections while at school, schools must have a response plan in place that includes communication with staff, families, their school district, and local health jurisdiction.
  • Schools should prepare to provide instruction for students who are excluded from school due to illness or quarantine.
  • Physical distancing of at least three feet or more between students in classroom settings and at least six feet or more in most situations outside of the classroom to the degree possible is recommended. However, physical distancing recommendations should not prevent a school from offering full-time, in person learning to all students/families in the fall.
  • While COVID-19 testing programs and vaccinations are not required for providing in-person learning, these measures can help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools and the broader community.

The department added that private and public schools must continue following existing guidelines through the remainder of the current school year.

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