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Inslee urges in-person classes, expands testing options for schools

In this Feb. 2, 2021, photo, students wear masks as they work in a fourth-grade classroom at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
In this Feb. 2, 2021, photo, students wear masks as they work in a fourth-grade classroom, at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley.

Washington state is expanding COVID-19 testing options for many public schools and Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday more students should have access to in-person learning.

“This is the best way to educate our children,” Inslee said at a news conference. “This can be done safely.”

Decisions about how and when to reopen schools to students are largely left to individual districts. Many districts – including Seattle, the state’s largest – have been closed for in-person instruction for almost a year during the pandemic.

Inslee said the state was encouraging local authorities to increase the number of days children can be back in the classroom.

The Democratic governor said moving toward more in-person instruction is in line with the scientific consensus and the latest guidance from federal officials. Inslee said online learning leaves many students at a disadvantage.

Going forward, Inslee said the state would expand COVID-19 testing for schools by using some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and other aid that will be available.

The Department of Health said Tuesday it was adding 48 more districts this month to a program that offers a range of COVID-19 testing options. Previously, 11 districts were taking part. There are 295 public school districts in the state.

Inslee said schools should require masks, use social distancing and ensure proper ventilation. Also, he said parents should have an option to continue having kids receiving online instruction.

The governor said the next group of people who will eligible for vaccinations in the state will be essential workers over the age of 50, which would include teachers.

Washington hasn't given special access to all educators for the COVID-19 vaccine. Oregon, meanwhile, in a controversial decision decided to vaccinate all teachers ahead of elderly people.

Inslee said as of now about 200,000 students in Washington were receiving some in-person schooling. There are more than 1 million public school students in Washington.

Schools that have reopened classrooms in Washington have generally started with younger children.

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