State superintendent of schools offers planning guide for reopening schools

The guidance provides schools with the health and safety guidelines needed to begin planning for a safe fall return

Today, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released guidance that lays a framework for schools to begin planning what their return to school in the fall looks like.

The guidance was developed in partnership with the state Department of Health (DOH); the Governor’s Office; the Department of Labor and Industries; and a broad stakeholder group of more than 120 educators, practitioners, parents, community-based organizations, legislators, and students.

“Learning is a social activity, and we want to see our students back in the classroom,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Protecting the health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority. If schools can meet the guidelines laid out today by DOH, they will likely be able to open their doors in the fall for in-person instruction.”

Chris Reykdal

“Nothing we have been through these past three months was in the training manual,” begins the letter from Reykdal in new guidance on reopening schools in the fall. “This guidance is grounded in my belief that the most equitable opportunity for educational success relies upon the comprehensive supports for students provided in our schools with our professionals and the systems of supports we have built.’’

While face-to-face learning is the goal, the guidance includes three concepts for school districts to consider adapting and building from should they be limited in face-to-face learning in the fall:

  • Split or rotating schedules with distance learning,
  • Phased-in opening with continuous learning, and
  • Continuous learning 2.0, a more effective remote learning system.

How a district reopens school will be decided in partnership with their students, staff, families, and their local health authority. While reopening is not tied to the Governor’s Safe Start Plan, districts in Phase 1 or Modified Phase 1 must receive approval to reopen from their local health authority.

“Today, we are setting a path for moving forward with school activities in the summer and school reopening in the fall,” said Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We have been working closely with Superintendent Reykdal and his staff at OSPI, state Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Industries, and a wide range of stakeholders across the state to ensure the health of all students and educators,” he continued.

“We all want students back in educational settings, but we must continue to monitor health data carefully, and proceed with caution,” Inslee continued. “This virus is unpredictable and has upended our regular ways of doing everything. Therefore, if COVID cases spike or spread, we may need to reassess this plan. We cannot guarantee that school facilities will open in fall. But for now, this guidance provides a path that schools, educators, and families need to plan for the coming months and the fall. Kids need to be learning but they also need to be safe and healthy.” 

School districts that meet in person will be required to follow the Department of Health’s health and safety guidelines, including requirements around physical distancing, face coverings, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Schools are foundational to student, family, and community health and well-being,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “DOH guidance provides health and safety measures to reduce the risk for spread of COVID-19 so that students have access to the critical physical, mental, and social health benefits school provides.”

The Washington Education Association issued a statement Thursday, supporting health and safety as the first priority for school reopening.

“The health and safety of our school students, staff, and community remain our highest priority as we look toward the start of the 2020-2021 school year,’’ said Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association. “We share the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s interest to return to school as close to normal as is possible, to the extent that it can be done safely. However, we question if social distancing guidelines can truly be met in many schools across our state, given typical class sizes.

“The OSPI recommendations, paired with those from the Departments of Health and Labor and Industries, provide broad parameters that could allow our schools to open in a way that protects health and safety while recognizing the need for a hybrid model as a very real option in many areas,’’ Delaney said. “School districts must engage early with educators through our local unions to incorporate best practices and ensure equitable learning within the OSPI parameters.’’

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