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Governor releases updated guidance to encourage schools to resume in-person learning

LM Otero
The Associated Press
Masked students work on computers at a Texas elementary school on Dec. 3, 2020.

Amid increasing pressure from parents to have schools offer more face-to-face instruction, Gov. Jay Inslee has released updated recommendations to school districts to encourage them to do that.

“There is risk in returning to campuses, but we are confident now that the risks will be mitigated as long as there is adherence to health and safety measures, like wearing masks, maintaining six feet of physical distance, increased cleaning and improved ventilation,” Inslee said in prepared remarks.

Right now, only about 15 percent of the state’s 1.2 million K-12 students are estimated to be receiving in-person instruction, the governor said.

The metrics are still based on the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. But the new guidance recommends that “once the required safety measures are in place,” in-person learning should be available for all students when cases are below 50 per 100,000 people.

Under the previous recommendations, the Washington Department of Health recommended full-time in-person learning for all elementary students and a hybrid model for middle and high school when cases were below 25 per 100,000 people, slowly phasing in full-time in-person learning for secondary students “if physical space allows.”

When cases are greater than 50 but less than 350 per 100,000 people, the new guidance recommends phasing in in-person learning, beginning with elementary and middle school students and starting with the youngest and highest-needs children first. That’s because the coronavirus transmission risk for older students is similar to that of adults.

When cases exceed 350 per 100,000 people, the new guidance recommends that districts offer small-group instruction to elementary students and those with the highest needs. A small group would be 15 students or fewer.

Statewide, the latest Washington Department of Health data show a rate of 468 newly diagnosed cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks.  

Credit Office of the Governor
Office of the Governor

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.