Gov. Inslee to require K-12 schools to provide in-person instruction

By Ritika Khanal

All students in the state of Washington will return to a form of in-person instruction by mid-April of 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Friday, March 12. This proclamation comes almost exactly a year after schools in the state were ordered to close their buildings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though some districts have begun bringing back their youngest and most vulnerable learners, most districts have elected to keep older students onward of second grade in a fully remote learning model for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. However, the emergency proclamation that Gov. Inslee is set to issue within the next month will require all K-12 schools to allow the opportunity for in-person instruction to all students using the hybrid model.

The hybrid model implements two days of in-person instruction for each student, while the other three days are fully remote. Inslee’s proclamation will require all districts to have an in-person option in place for grades K-6 by April 5. Grades 7-12 must have available in-person learning options by April 19. According to Inslee, 30 percent of instructional time must be provided to all students in the classroom at least two days a week, and all social distancing and health guidelines must be followed. However, districts will also be expected to provide their students with the option to remain in a fully remote learning model.

“The impact of this pandemic on our children’s mental health has created a crisis among our young people. Now is the time for all schools to return to in person learning,” Inslee said in a tweet.

For months, both Gov. Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal have said that the decision to reopen schools falls on the local school boards. However, in recent weeks, Gov. Inslee has expressed frustrations at Washington’s public schools and the lack of in-person instruction being provided.

“If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction , I would be a millionaire at this point. These excuses are getting just a little bit tiresome, frankly,” he said during a news conference.

This announcement came mere days after Inslee prioritized all teachers in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Edmonds School District (ESD) has been working on a hybrid model learning plan since the summer of 2020. Some special education programs have already begun in-person learning, and grades K-2 are expected to return to school in the hybrid learning model on March 22.  Students identified as needing extra support, a safe place to work or stable internet access have also begun to utilize school buildings.

Prior to Inslee’s  announcement, The district had planned to bring small groups of students into school buildings for enrichment activities and emotional support starting as early as March 29. However, that is no longer the plan, and schools are now focused on the plan to bring students back in the hybrid model.

“The district is working with the Edmonds Education Association so we can move quickly and effectively to follow the orders set out by the governor to bring more students back into our school buildings,” Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas wrote in an eMail to staff following the announcement.