TL;DR – Washington Gov. Inslee to require K-12 schools to offer some in-person learning as part of COVID-19 recovery.

In an effort to get students back in classrooms by late April, Gov. Jay Inslee is set to issue an emergency proclamation that essentially requires Washington’s K-12 school districts to offer students at least some opportunity for in-person learning.

Friday’s announcement of a proclamation to be issued next week comes as Inslee has expressed increasing frustration that some of Washington’s schools remain online only. That includes the state’s largest district — Seattle Public Schools — where the local union voted earlier this month to continue teaching most students online only.

Meanwhile, Northshore School District had plans to bring back some elementary schoolers by late March, but intended to keep most learners in grades 6-12 remote until at least early May.

“We’re doing this because we have experienced a mental-health crisis for many of our children,” said Inslee in a news conference. “”And this will provide them an option that suits their needs, and their families.”

He added later that, “we do know that many, many of our children have not been able to thrive as we wish them to do so without on-site education.”

Under the governor’s pending order, K-6 students around the state must be allowed an opportunity for what’s known as hybrid instruction — a mix of remote and in-person teaching — by April 5.

Then, by April 19, all other students must be given an opportunity to have hybrid instruction.

By that day, school districts will be required to hold at least 30% of their weekly average instructional hours as in-person, on-campus instruction for all K-12 students.

Even with the order, parents will still have the option to keep their children at home if they prefer.

Inslee and the state’s top education official, Chris Reykdal, have said for months that the decision to reopen schools rests with local school boards. But the governor in recent weeks has grown frustrated at the slow pace and as Washington’s schools lag behind those in other states in reopening.

“If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction, I would be a millionaire at this point,” the governor said last week during a news conference on the state’s COVID-19 response. “These excuses are getting just a little bit tiresome, frankly.

First Lady Trudi Inslee added to that chorus in an opinion column calling for in-person learning, saying, “This is a responsibility we need to embrace in order to eradicate institutional inequities, one student at a time.”

Friday’s announcement appears to rest on the broad emergency powers that the Legislature long ago granted governors in order to navigate major crises, including broad powers to issue restrictions. According to state statute, the governor has power over “such other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

In this case, Inslee is restricting school districts from providing remote instruction only.

To issue the order, the governor is declaring a state of emergency that is separate from the current one on COVID-19, according to Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee, which focuses on the mental health of children and youth.

While Inslee said he isn’t focused on any punitive measures, the proclamation is legally binding, and “We have full expectations that it will be fulfilled.”

The announcement follows a similar order from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who last week directed all schools to reopen by April 19. Arizona’s governor has also ordered schools to open. It also comes just days after Inslee prioritized teachers and school employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

And it comes almost one year to the day after Inslee directed the state’s public and private schools to shut down as the coronavirus took hold here.

What researchers and health officials know about the virus and how to contain it has changed significantly since then. A growing body of research suggests that schools can reopen and limit in-school transmission when a lengthy set of safety protocols, such as universal mask wearing and social distancing, are used with fidelity. In Washington, schools that reopen are required to implement such measures.

But many of the state’s school buildings are still closed. As of Friday, about 40% of the state’s school children were learning in person at least once weekly. The state’s largest school district, Seattle Public Schools, remains locked in negotiations with its teachers union and has kept buildings closed to most students throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Businesses and Workers

On January 5, Governor Inslee announced the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, which lays out the process to safely reopen Washington state. The plan includes guidance for certain businesses and industries to help protect Washingtonians and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The full Healthy Washington phased chart is available here.

Important Reference Documents

Healthy Washington Requirements

The following business activities must adhere to the occupancy and operation requirements outlined for their region’s Healthy Washington phase:

Religious and Faith-Based Organizations

Professional Services

Personal Services

Eating and Drinking Establishments

Weddings, Funerals and Events

Sports, Recreation and Fitness

Indoor Entertainment Establishments

Outdoor Entertainment Establishments​

All employers must follow COVID-19 prevention protocols for employees as required by the Department of Labor and Industries. Industry-specific workplace requirements are listed below:

Additional Industry Requirements​

For additional industry-specific safety practices, including those for Farm and Agricultural Workers, Food Workers and Establishments, schools, healthcare providers, and others, please visit the Department of Health’s Resources and Recommendations Page.

Source: Brynn Brady