K-12 students across Washington state will have some sort of in-person schooling by the middle of next month as Gov. Jay Inslee made an emergency proclamation calling for on-site instruction to be offered at school districts statewide in the coming weeks.
During a press conference Friday, Inslee announced the proclamation, which will require districts statewide to phase-in at least a hybrid in-person learning model. Districts will have until April 5 to have students from kindergarten to sixth grade have some sort of on-site instruction, Inslee said, and by April 19 there must be that option for students kindergarten through 12th grade.
Also by April 19 all districts must have at least 30% of their pre-pandemic average weekly instructional hours provided in-person for all K-12 students, the governor said, with no less than two in-person contact weekly for students, which could be partial days.
Inslee said districts were required to continue efforts to exceed that 30-percent in-person minimum, and must reach maximum building capacity and in-person frequency while keeping health and safety requirements in place “as soon as possible.” Districts must also preserve options for fully-remote and in-person learning, he added.
The proclamation will require at least a hybrid model for districts, where students attend in person either on alternate days or times of day. Inslee said that schools able to have a greater level of instruction would still be allowed to pursue that amount, as long as state-mandated health and safety guidelines were put into place.
Inslee said that the requirements of the proclamation can be done safely, pointing to 200 school districts and 400,000 students who have been able to take part in some sort of in-person instruction. Washington State Superintendent for Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said that about 50% of the state’s elementary school population has some sort of in-person instruction, with 40% of middle school students and 30% of high school students also being in buildings to some degree.
Inslee said the proclamation was necessary to the mental effects of all-remote learning since he first ordered school buildings closed nearly a year ago on March 13, 2020.
“There is now unfortunately, undeniably, a mental healthcare crisis in our state regarding our youth,” Inslee said, “and so now is the time for our schools to return this option for in-person learning.”
As additional measures to help students’ mental health, Inslee said the proclamation directs the Washington State Department of Health and the state Healthcare Authority to come up with recommendations on how to better support those students. Students will also receive federal help on the crisis, Inslee said Washington state school districts are set to receive some $2.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act recently signed by President Joe Biden. He said he’s spoken with educators who agree with putting it toward mental health.
“What we see in the education system is the effects of isolation and the trauma of what’s happened for a lot of our students,” Reykdal said. Attendance and performance decline has been profound, he added, especially among middle and high school-aged students.
“After one year of closure of our schools, the time has come for every child in the state of Washington to have access to on-site instruction,” Inslee remarked.