By Sally Ho | The Associated Press
SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that schools in most of the state’s counties should strongly consider online-only learning for students this fall due to COVID-19 as well as cancel or postpone sports and all other in-person extracurricular activities.
Inslee made the announcement with the superintendent of public instruction and the state’s health officer.
“This pandemic will continue to grow unless something changes,” Inslee said, adding if every school district brought all students back, “I believe we would see a dangerous increase of COVID activity.”
For high-risk counties, Washington state recommends distance learning and no in-person activities. Limited in-person instruction could be considered for high-need students.
Twenty-five of the state’s 39 counties are considered high-risk, meaning there are more than 75 cases per 100,000 people, including all three counties in the Seattle metro area. Many schools in the Puget Sound region have already announced plans to start the year with an online-only model.
School districts in Clallam and Jefferson counties are pursuing hybrid methods that involve both in-person and remote teaching.
For moderate-risk counties (25 to 75 cases per 100,000), Inslee and others say distance learning should be considered for middle and high school students. In-person learning could be an option for elementary students and those with special needs.
Nine counties are currently listed as moderate risk.
In the five, smaller low-risk counties where there are fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 officials recommend a hybrid distance/in-person schedule for older students and in-person learning for elementary school students.
Inslee also announced $8.8 million in federal funding to help the state pay for internet plans and technology needs for low-income families.
Critics of online learning say not enough consideration has been given to students who lack reliable internet or computers.
Authorities say the virus is still spreading too extensively in the state, which saw the nation’s first confirmed virus case in late January. Since then, Washington has seen more than 59,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 1,600 deaths.