Local schools could start bringing back students under new statewide guidelines

Governor Jay Inslee is loosening school reopening guidelines amid a resurging coronavirus pandemic, and pleading with reluctant teachers to return to the classroom, particularly those tasked with educating the youngest and neediest students. 

Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal unveiled the state’s latest reopening standards, which urge schools to begin phasing in in-person learning no matter what the community COVID-19 infection rates are, and to resist reverting back to remote learning should transmissions further increase. 

“Today we are taking a step forward in getting school children back in the classroom,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “The science has shown, and our school officials have proven that with diligent focus on health and safety measures, it is possible to bring children back to the classroom while also protecting our students, staff and community from further transmission of COVID-19.”

They also announced $3 million from set aside funds to be distributed to implement health and safety protocols.

“The changes to our school metrics are based on emerging research and data gathered by state and national health education officials and the early experiences of schools in Washington state and the nation,” said Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach. “The changes recognize that with robust health and safety measures in place, transmission in the school setting appears to be limited.”

The Department of Health suggests three categories for re-introducing in-person learning:

  • For schools in counties where COVID-19 cases are “low” (less than 50 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be made available for all students.
  • In counties where COVID-19 cases are “moderate” (between 50 and 350 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be phased in, starting with elementary students not already attending in person and middle school students, followed by high school students.
  • Finally, in counties where COVID-19 cases are “high” (over 350 per 100,000 residents), it’s recommended that schools should only offer in-person instruction for elementary and high-need students in small groups of 15 students or fewer.

Over the past two weeks, the Grays Harbor cases have increased by 443, or approximately 590 cases per 100,000, placing us in the “High” category.

In Pacific County, the case count indicates Moderate numbers at approximately 331 cases per 100,000.

In addition to the updated metrics, DOH announced an increased focus on the health and safety measures that are required by law for in-person learning. Some of those measures include:

  • Protect staff and students at higher risk for severe COVID-19 while ensuring access to learning.
  • Group students (required in elementary, recommended for middle and high school students).
  • Practice physical distancing among students and staff.
  • Promote frequent hand washing or sanitizing.
  • Promote and ensure face covering use among students and staff.
  • Increased cleaning and disinfection.
  • Improve ventilation.

Each school must have an operational safety committee responsible for a COVID-19 prevention plan. 

These plans must include a designated COVID-19 supervisor, training off all staff on COVID-19 prevention, and adequate supply and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment, including respiratory protection.

Testing and contact tracing both need to be in place at the schools.

DOH is also releasing guidance on COVID-19 testing in the K-12 school populations to help local school and health leaders decide on who, how, and when to test/screen K-12 students and staff.