Tacoma Public Schools delays start of in-person learning

The only school experience Chandler Patterson, 5, and his classmates know is over the computer.

Patterson is a kindergarten student at Downing Elementary School and has been learning virtually from home each morning.

His mom Mickayla Queree was preparing to start bringing him to school in person on September 28, along with other families with students in the Pre-K, Kindergarten, and self-contained special education.

"I feel like it’s a little bit early. I wasn’t expecting them to go back so early," said Queree. "How are you going to be able to make sure that my son, as well as other kindergarteners, are safe in that environment with all those other kindergarteners?"

On Thursday, Tacoma Public Schools announced it will not start in-person classes on Monday, Sept. 28 after all.

According to a district spokesperson, TPS received clarified guidance this week from the State of Washington about the types of protective masks required for school employees.

The district says staff will have to wear a higher level of a personal protective mask than was previously planned.

"We also have discovered during safety testing of our N95 masks that many are not passing the safety standards," the district said.

The district has already contracted with a training and fitting vendor.

Shannon Ergun is the president of the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) which represents about 2,300 members. Of those, she said about 300 members will fall into the category of needing to be trained and fitted for an N-95 mask.

"Given that we need to put some systems in place to get kids into buildings, into classrooms, ensure we have the right teachers in right classrooms. I think putting it off another few days is prudent," said Ergun of returning to the classroom. "I think we’re getting closer. I think we all want to be back in buildings, but if our administrators and our board members are still saying maybe we’ll do this virtually, then maybe our students should do this virtually as well."

New state guidance pertinent to school operations is expected the week of Sept. 28, so the district will wait to receive that new information so it can ensure the safety of its staff and students.

The TEA is guaranteed five business days notice before moving into the next step of the phased reopening plan, which means it'll be at least another week before schools reopen, according to Ergun.

Read more from Tacoma Public Schools below:

Tacoma Public Schools will not begin bringing students back to school on Monday, Sept. 28 for in-person instruction.

School districts received clarified guidance this week from the state Department of Labor and Industries around the types of personal protective masks required for school employees who work in schools with students.

We also have discovered during safety testing of our N95 masks that many are not passing the safety standards.

In addition, we have learned that more information from Labor and Industries pertinent to school operations may come out the week of Sept. 28.

As a result of these issues, we will delay the start of in-person instruction until we receive and understand any new information and can ensure the safety of our staff and students.

For Tacoma Public Schools, this clarified guidance from L&I means school-based staff members must wear a higher level of personal protective masks than previously planned and communicated.

We now have a requirement for a significant number of staff members, due to their roles, who must be trained and fitted with N95 masks. These groups of employees include nurses, health clerks, special education teachers and paraeducators, and custodians.

The process required to ensure staff members wear an N95 safely and properly requires a confidential health review, a training session and individual mask fitting by a licensed professional.

Tacoma Public Schools already has contracted with a training and fitting vendor and has begun the process.

We will keep our employees, families and community informed as we continue to get greater understanding from the various agencies.