School districts’ efforts to cobble together distance learning last spring was just the warm up. When public K-12 students head back to virtual school next month, their future — and the collective future of Washington state — is on the line.

Several school districts in the Puget Sound region have signaled their intent to begin the term remotely, with school boards set to approve remote learning plans later this month. Seattle Public School board members will review that district’s remote learning playbook at an Aug. 5 work session. It is an ambitious document that calls for stronger parent engagement, more rigorous grading, and ongoing academic and social-emotional supports.

Achieving these goals will require prioritizing staff time and school resources. The district must follow through, focusing first and foremost on the needs of students facing additional barriers to learning.

They can do so by building relationships with community partners and actively engaging families in a way that will have positive effects long after the pandemic has passed.

Equipping students with broadband access and connected devices — while challenging in itself — is just the beginning of schools’ responsibilities during this unusual school year.

Remote K-12 learning is a strain on every family, but that strain is not borne equally. Remote learning may be wise from a public-health perspective, but it exacerbates inequalities — as last spring’s home-school experience revealed.

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Even before the pandemic, too many young people — particularly young people of color — were exiting public school ill prepared to pursue higher education or lucrative, fulfilling careers. The current pandemic has only underscored the urgency of addressing this opportunity gap.

Before this year’s disruption, too few Washington students were earning the postsecondary credentials the state’s employers need in their workforce. During the pandemic, this has been especially evident. For example, while workers with a high school diploma or GED make up 24% of the population, they accounted for 33% of unemployment claims at the end of July, according to an analysis by Washington STEM.

Simply put, the state cannot afford to relent in its pursuit of educational excellence for every Washington student.