Washington’s schools chief said Thursday that he expects school districts to reopen buildings and return to in-person learning next school year — as long as public health guidelines allow them to do so.
Chris Reykdal, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, and a work group of more than 120 educators, parents, students and community organizations released a 47-page document with new guidance Thursday that lays out what face-to-face instruction could look like come fall.
How and whether schools reopen depends, at least in part, on what phase their county is in as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. But for now, education officials said, schools should plan to resume class in-person.
The guidance leaves most decisions up to school districts. Districts that can’t reopen right away, or bring all students back at once because of public health concerns, are encouraged to use a mix of distance learning and staggered scheduling.
The education department is asking districts to make contingency plans that would allow them to quickly switch from in-person instruction to remote learning should cases of coronavirus resurge. For instance, districts should add days to their school calendar in case of emergency short-term building closures, officials said.
Districts should also make plans to conduct learning remotely if schools are forced to close again for an extended period, officials wrote.
In a news release Thursday afternoon, Yakima School District Superintendent Trevor Greene, who oversees the largest student body locally with 16,000 students, said the district would thoroughly review the state guidelines and release a local reopening guide the week of July 6. He said plans would be influenced by state recommendations, and also have unique local components.
"As you know, this is uncharted territory and there will be some elements of the guide that will need to be worked out along the way," Greene said in the statement. "We appreciate your patience as we navigate this process and promise to stay in close communication with you moving forward."'
Asked if the districts expects Yakima will be in a position to reopen schools in the fall, district communications director Kirsten Fitterer said the district "will work closely with the health department to make that determination."
Yakima County has not progressed in the state's four-part reopening plans yet due to high rates of COVID-19 and hospitalization. New cases daily continue to rise in Yakima County. The county remains in Phase 1, while most other counties progressed to Phase 2 at the start of June.
Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Janelle Retka contributed to this report.