Seattle superintendent urges no in-person schooling for fall

By Sally Ho | The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Seattle’s school district superintendent has decided against having students return to the classroom in the new school year, saying the prospect of in-person learning is impossible amid rising coronavirus infection rates.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau announced Wednesday that she’s recommending a fully remote learning model when school resumes in the fall. The school board is expected to vote on how to proceed during the pandemic at its next regularly scheduled board meeting on Aug. 12.

“The current trajectory of infection in King County and the most recent data and information from public health makes it clear that resuming school in-person this fall is impossible,” Juneau said in a press release.

The state Department of Health said Wednesday that the latest numbers bring the state up to 49,247 cases and at least 1,468 deaths. Officials said since the pandemic began, 855,152 tests for the coronavirus have been done in the state with about 5.8 percent of those coming back positive. Over the past week, about 5.5 percent of tests in Washington have been positive. The World Health Organization recommends the rate be 5 percent or less.

Juneau’s latest recommendation has been endorsed by both the principals labor union and the teachers union. The district is also currently at the bargaining table with the Seattle Education Association for a new teachers contract.

Washington state’s largest school system, which has about 50,000 students, had previously assumed it would operate on a hybrid model of partial in-class learning after weeks of vetting its options.

Much remains uncertain, including the school calendar. School was scheduled to begin Sept. 2 but Tim Robinson, a Seattle schools spokesman, on Wednesday said there may be adjustments.

Robinson said district leaders and staff are still working through how school will be conducted, which will utilize an online component but may also include socially-distanced teacher in-person visits, telephone calls and mailed materials.

“The staff is hard at work trying to develop the way forward in terms of specifics on how to deliver the curriculum and how to do the teaching and learning,” Robinson said.

The district had moved largely online since it first shut down all buildings on March 12 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Gov. Jay Inslee on April 6 issued an emergency order to keep schools across the state closed through the end of the school year.

The state last month had urged all schools to resume with at least partial in-person learning.

On Wednesday, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal acknowledged that multiple districts in Seattle’s Puget Sound region were choosing to go fully remote.

Reykdal said all districts, including those without in-person instruction, must provide students with weekly schedules, daily engagement or assignments, and daily attendance requirements. He also reminded all districts that they must still provide an adequate number of instructional days and hours, as mandated by law.

“We are likely to see many school districts decide to take most of their instruction and supports online, while many others will provide in-person learning within the health and safety guidelines. These decisions are made at the local level with local communities,” Reykdal said in a statement.

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