Gov. Jay Inslee’s office says possible changes to the disease metrics that guide school district reopening decisions in Washington are still on the table. But a widely publicized note posted to social media by the state teachers educator union on Thursday says otherwise.
On Facebook, the statewide teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said Inslee decided against an early November proposal to loosen some of the guidelines crafted by the state Department of Health, which are among most cautious in the nation. The post implied that a meeting this Wednesday between Inslee and the president of WEA, Larry Delaney, may have swayed the decision. (Delaney was also the author of the post.)
Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee, said that was a mischaracterization of the meeting between the two parties.
“Bottom line: no the governor did not say that and it is inaccurate that it is being communicated that way,” she wrote in an email on Friday. “These are ongoing conversations … The governor wants to hear from educators on the best way to get kids back in the classroom in a safe way.”
WEA did not respond to a request for comment.
School districts, which are responsible for school reopening decisions, are advised under the current state guidelines to educate students remotely unless their county records a coronavirus infection rate of fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.
State Department of Health officials proposed modifying the guidelines as recently as early last month, when they gave a presentation to Gov. Jay Inslee with research suggesting that school buildings, particularly those that serve elementary school students, can reopen where community spread is low. They told The Seattle Times that changes were “still under review” last Tuesday. On Friday, they deferred questions to Inslee’s office.
According to draft changes to those guidelines from November, state officials were considering increasing that threshold to 200 cases per 100,000.
Local teachers unions around the state, with support from WEA, have been filing labor complaints against some school districts trying to reopen, citing problems with PPE and inconsistent safety standards.
“ … Students and families need assurances that schools are safe and that districts are following all of the required protocols and procedures established by [Labor & Industries] prior to expanding in-person schooling,” Delaney wrote in the WEA’s Facebook post.
Since the benchmarks are not legally binding, changing thresholds wouldn’t have a guaranteed immediate and direct impact on how many kids attend school in person. Most districts in Puget Sound have closely followed state reopening guidance, but other districts, primarily on the east side of the state, have reopened when local coronavirus incidence was far above the state’s recommended threshold.