More Washington public school districts plan to resume or expand in-person instruction for at least some students this month. Thanks goes to revised state guidance based in the emerging understanding of the risks of transmitting coronavirus.
In King County, school districts such as Bellevue, Enumclaw, Mercer Island and Tahoma intend to bring more students into classrooms in the coming weeks. More districts intend to follow in February. That is promising news for some lucky students, particularly those who are younger, receive special education and others who are first-in-line to return in many districts’ reopening plans.
Although the risks of in-person schooling are low, only about 15% of the state’s K-12 students were actually at school before winter break, according to Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates. Gov. Jay Inslee’s and the state Department of Health’s revised guidance for school reopening, issued last month, should motivate more local school boards and administrators to take up the challenge of safe return to classroom instruction.
This month, the Bellevue School District will open in-person instruction for kindergarten through second grade. Seattle Public Schools intends to begin phasing-in at-school learning March 1, starting with the district’s youngest students and some special education students. The district surveyed parents recently to determine how many students they should expect.
Other districts should join them in bringing students back into buildings as soon as practicable. The logistical challenges are significant but pale in comparison to the potentially damaging effects of this disruption.
Public-safety protocols such as masks, social distancing and extra sanitation may prove easy when compared with the daunting task of evaluating students’ learning — and where they’ve fallen behind over the past 10 months. Bringing learners back into alignment with grade-level expectations could well be a herculean task.
Closing schools was necessary to help slow the spread of coronavirus, but reopening classrooms is an important goal that will demand resources and thoughtful planning.
Every Washington student deserves access to an excellent education. The safe, swift return to classrooms is just the start.