Seattle Public Schools students who haven’t attended classes in person since the start of this school year Sept. 1 haven’t yet lost spots at their assigned schools, district officials said Tuesday.
That’s a change from what the district said last week.
On Thursday, the Seattle Public Schools website included a message that students in grades first through 12th who didn’t show up to in-person classes by Friday would be unenrolled from the district, following guidance from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The posted policy was a surprise to some parents, who said they didn’t receive any advance warning and were still uneasy about sending their children back into school buildings because of the rise in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the district changed the deadline to Tuesday.
“Students who have been out due to exposure or symptoms of COVID-19, quarantine recommendations, or family members managing COVID-19, will have their absences marked as excused and continue to stay enrolled,” the district’s website said on Tuesday. “Students who are McKinney-Vento eligible or have a 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) will continue to stay enrolled and school staff or case managers will contact families directly.” (The McKinney-Vento Act governs school access for children who are experiencing homelessness.)
Seattle school board President Chandra Hampson confirmed families who are waiting to come back to in-person school can re-enroll in the school they were previously attending. Spots are being held regardless of whether a student was at their neighborhood school or an option school, she said.
“We need to be better next time and provide more clarity as we pivot in real time,” Hampson said. “Administrators are working very hard to … make families feel safe.”
Steven Walters, who has three children under age 12, said he didn’t want to send his kids back to in-person school until he saw that safety strategies were being followed and were working to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although the positive cases schools have reported are low, he said, they’re still there.
Since the start of school, hundreds of Seattle-area school employees and students have either tested positive or had to quarantine because they were in close contact with someone who had COVID-19. As of Tuesday, Seattle Schools was reporting 117 cases of coronavirus, including 101 student cases.
“We recognize the value [of in-person school] but we feel if we have to balance the risk of some education loss versus unknown health impacts for us … I would feel more guilty if we sent kids back and they got sick,” Walters said.
Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson said this wasn’t a new policy, but some “details” were different. He said a letter outlining the policy was in the works.
However, Hampson said part of the change is because Seattle Schools can’t legally keep students enrolled if they aren’t coming to school.
There are state financial and student reporting requirements that include guidance on when to report a student as enrolled, said Katy Payne, a spokesperson for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“State funding is allocated based on students who are enrolled and have participated in instruction supervised by qualified school district staff,” Payne said in an email. “Knowing this, there is a scenario where a student could be enrolled but not generate any state or federal funding. This is one reason why there are not explicit directives to school districts regarding a requirement to disenroll a student.”
The state superintendent’s office requires school districts to provide outreach and engagement for students who are unenrolled, Payne said. The office is working with school districts to “clarify” unenrollment questions.
Payne said Seattle students who aren’t enrolled in the district anymore can transfer to another school district to access a remote or online learning program, enroll in a private school or choose home-based instruction.