Let the locals decide.
That was the primary philosophy behind recommendations around returning Washington students to school as announced by Gov. Jay Inslee during a press conference Aug. 5. …
Let the locals decide.
That was the primary philosophy behind recommendations around returning Washington students to school as announced by Gov. Jay Inslee during a press conference Aug. 5.
The framework put forth by the state advises — but does not mandate — restricting or canceling in-person education and extracurricular actives, including sports and artistic/performative endeavors, in both public and private schools in nearly every county in Washington based on individual areas' current levels of transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Jefferson County is one of only five counties in the state considered "low risk," having logged less than 25 cases per 100,000 in a recent two-week period.
Inslee announced the recommendations during a Wednesday afternoon press conference, billed as “an update on the state's ongoing response to COVID-19," where he was joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, and State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
"We know that the uncertainly regarding our schools is a subject of great anxiety for our parents and our families and our educators, and that anxiety is not just about whether its safe to go back to school, or how to do so, but also about the impacts to children if they don't return to the classroom," Inslee said.
"We know that ultimately the most important thing for our children and their families is their health and safety."
Inslee, who wore a face mask throughout the conference, said the rate of transmission of the coronavirus is not sufficiently low so as to permit an unrestricted, business-as-usual return to school this year.
"If every school district brought all their students back for in-person instruction today, I believe we would see a real meaningful and dangerous increase in COVID activity," he said, citing as examples outbreaks in Mississippi, Georgia, and Israel following schools reopening.
"This pandemic will continue to grow unless something changes to the positive side in the state of Washington," Inslee said.
The state's recommendations categorize each county into one of three "risk groups," with corresponding restrictions applicable in each.
Only five counties — Asotin, Garfield, Jefferson, San Juan and Wahkiakum — are “low risk," with the state recommending their respective schools teach elementary schoolers in person and consider a hybrid model for older students, one which incorporates a blend of in-person and remote instruction.
Twenty-five counties, including King, Snohomish and Pierce, are considered "high risk," having seen more than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a recent 14-day period, should “strongly consider distance learning, with the option for limited in-person instruction” for some students, such as those with disabilities, according to the guidance.
Schools in those counties should consider canceling all sports and extracurricular activities as well, Inslee advised, noting the "vast majority" of Washington students live in a "high risk" area.
"I hope everyone can be part of this effort to ultimately create the conditions where we will not have to consider going to new systems of education for our students," he said.
"What happens in the community has great impact on the schools and what happens in the schools has great impact on the communities."
Schools in the state’s nine “moderate risk” counties should consider prioritizing in-person learning for elementary school students and those who receive special education services but otherwise curtail class and extracurricular actives, according to the guidance.
The recommendations, Inslee said, “are based on science, they are based on the health of our children."
“We are not going to allow our state to be hammered by this virus as other states and other countries have been," he added.
In all counties, the governor said, school and health officials must consider if they are capable of reopening while maintaining previous guidelines regarding social distancing, cleaning surfaces and promoting personal hygiene.
They must also, he said, be prepared to respond quickly to suspected new cases of COVID-19.
Reykdal said the guidelines were carefully considered to allow for maximum customization for each school district while acknowledging how quickly things can change in the time of COVID.
"When we issued our guidance, cases of COVID-19 in our state, hospitalizations and sadly the death rate were all on a steep decline.
Things were very, very good in our state," he said. "What we have observed, however, since early June, is certainly cases on the rise."
Reopening schools elsewhere, he added, have revealed to Washington officials one immutable fact.
"What we observed in other countries for certain is [that] you've got to get your case numbers down and you've got to have a slow return back," he said.
Inslee said the guidelines were being shared now, as it was the right mixture of patience and foresight.
The timing was, he said, early enough to allow local education and health leaders to make informed decisions and late enough so as to utilize the best, most current possible data.
"We believe that this is the right approach for the state's relationship with the local school boards and local communities," he said.