Desks, classroom, school

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has released its guidance on reopening schools in the state this fall, highlighted by the expected return of in-person instruction.

In the 55-page report, OSPI says most districts should presume opening in the fall. The guidance is specific to K-12 public and private schools, regardless of what phase their county is in during the Washington Safe Start plan.

"To be very clear, it is my expectation that schools will open this fall for in-person instruction," Superintendent Chris Reykdal said.

In collaboration with the state Department of Health, several health and safety measures will be in place, including all students, staff, volunteers and guests being required to wear cloth face coverings in K-12 settings (some exceptions apply for those with disabilities, respiratory conditions, deaf/hard of hearing).

Under the guidance, several physical distancing efforts can be considered like canceling field trips, modifying classes or activities, increasing space between desks and staggering arrival/dismissal times. Meals would be suggested either outside or in the classroom, rather than in communal spaces or cafeterias.

The Reopening Washington Schools Workgroup determined three concepts if schools cannot meet physical distancing requirements and are limited in face-to-face instruction opportunities.

  • Split or Rotating Schedules with Distance Learning
  • Phased-in opening with Distance Learning by Geographic Region or by Grade Level
  • Continuous Learning 2.0

"The priority of this work is to serve students with as much face-to-face time with their educators and peers in schools as possible, consistent with health and safety needs," the guidance reads.

In the first two concepts, face-to-face instruction would be prioritized, and there would be time for educators to plan for continuous learning. The third concept is an enhanced version of learning that took place in spring 2020, and the OSPI says this model should only be used when it is not safe for any large groups of students or staff to be in school buildings together.

Key characteristics of the concepts and implementation examples are available through the OSPI/workgroup guidance. 

School districts will have the flexibility to choose and adapt a concept and schedule that works best for their community for the 2020-21 school year.

"The 2020–21 school year will likely look different from previous school years," OSPI said in a concluding statement. "Districts should prioritize providing face-to-face instruction as public health conditions allow, instituting physical distancing and other preventative practices to keep students and staff healthy. When face-to-face instruction is not possible, districts can use considerations in this guide to design appropriate local plans for meeting the needs of all students. In addition, every school district should have a contingency plan in place for continuous remote learning should they need to close to preserve health and safety."