OLYMPIA — Schools throughout the state are encouraged, though not required, to implement remote learning at the start of the school year.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday laid out recommendations for school districts, depending on the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period.
High-risk counties: Over 75 new cases. Distance learning urged at all grade levels. Limited in-person instruction could be an option for students with disabilities or other special needs.
Moderate-risk counties: Over 25 new cases. Distance learning encouraged for middle and high school, with the possibility of in-person instruction for elementary students and those with special needs.
Low-risk counties: Under 25 new cases. Hybrid distance/in-person learning encouraged for middle and high school, and full-in person instruction for elementary.
Inslee also encouraged districts in high- or moderate-risk counties to cancel or postpone in-person extracurricular activities. Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties are all in the high-risk category.
The governor noted a recent study from South Korea that showed children ages 10-19 spread the coronavirus at similar rates to adults.
“If every school district brought all of their students back to in-person instruction today, I believe we would see a real meaningful and dangerous increase in COVID activity,” he said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said most of the countries that have reopened schools were those with lower infection rates than the United States.
“There’s mixed results out there,” he said. “We’ve been observing more than a dozen countries — some who have had moderate success in returns and some, quite frankly, who returned too quickly, too fast. They did not have the proper elements in place and, unfortunately, have found themselves shutting down again. That will not build confidence amongst families and it will not be a successful and sustainable restart.”
The state is committing $8.8 million in federal CARES Act funding to help low-income families buy the technology and internet plans needed for remote learning.
Most school districts in North Central Washington had already made plans for distance learning or were at least considering going virtual.
“This morning, we consulted as a region with our health officials,” Eastmont Superintendent Garn Christensen said in an email Wednesday. “All of them continue to strongly recommend a remote start given current COVID rates. Based on this information, we will be starting remote and then move forward with incrementally returning our students to campus once they are in support.”
The Wenatchee School District is also planning an online start for the school year. Spokeswoman Diana Haglund said the governor’s recommendations reaffirmed that decision.
Inslee said the state has committed $170 million to helping with child care for working parents, including offering stability grants for providers, waiving family co-payments and extending enrollment-based payment for providers.
“But I don’t want to pretend to say that this is not going to be challenging for families, and we’re going to continue to look for some potential options to help them,” he said. “It’s challenging because to stand up some new child care system within weeks, or even months, is extremely difficult. But we have to weigh this risk against their children becoming sick and their children infecting their families. The health of these children and their families has to be a priority.”
One difference between in-person child care and schooling, he said, is the scale and number of interactions as child care settings tend to include fewer children in smaller groups.
State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy added that very young children are less likely to spread COVID-19 than older children.