Senator says remote instruction is ‘failing our children’
As more than a million K-12 students across Washington continue to face an uncertain educational future due to COVID-19, Sen. John Braun is preparing legislation to establish clear standards for delivering education as the pandemic continues into 2021. Braun represents the 20th Legislative District, which includes the northern tip of Clark County.
“Remote instruction is clearly failing our children, especially students from lower-income families and those who need special-education services. We as a state must find a better way,” said Braun, R-Centralia.
“There’s ample evidence that the risks of in-person instruction are much lower than the academic, emotional and other harms being done to our children. The science shows keeping students out of classrooms has no tangible health benefit to their communities,” Braun continued. “The Legislature’s number-one duty under our constitution is to provide for education, and it is time for us to provide a thoughtful path that returns our schools to in-person instruction.”
Braun expects his legislation will be ready for pre-filing in December so it can be considered as soon as the 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 11. His approach would link the kind of instruction offered by a school district – in-person, remote, or a hybrid – with the positivity test rates in its home county.
“As a matter of survival, private employers have figured out how to protect their employees and customers. Our schools haven’t had the same incentive. As a result we find ourselves with a K-12 system that is amply funded yet is failing students and their families – and that’s undoing the promise of the landmark education reforms the Legislature worked for years to adopt.
“Our students have lost so much by being kept out of classrooms, and by extension their families have lost as well,” Braun added. “My hope is that we’ll act quickly enough to start turning things around in the current academic year and have common-sense metrics in place before the 2021-22 school year.”
Under Braun’s legislation, full-time in-person instruction must be offered if a county’s virus-positivity rate is below 5 percent. School districts in counties with rates between 5 and 15 percent would get to choose between offering in-person or remote instruction, or a hybrid. In counties with positivity rates above 15 percent, only remote instruction would be allowed.
Braun’s proposal will also aim to keep “see-sawing” of school districts between categories to a minimum, to lessen disruption for students and parents, and will have a safety valve in the event of a virus outbreak at a school building.
“Metrics give everyone – students, parents, teachers, school staff – a sense of certainty. The state sets standards for many things, such as a number of instructional hours, then leaves it to school districts to act accordingly using their local authority. The metrics set earlier this year by the Department of Health for schools are obsolete. The Legislature can and must do better,” Braun said.