Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, Feb. 16 again urged school districts to resume in-person learning with updated guidelines and a state-sponsored testing program for students and staff.
For months, public health experts have said bringing students back to the classroom — in phased reopenings, with safety measures and a hybrid schedule — has been safer than previously predicted and hasn’t caused an increase in community-wide transmission. Last week, reports from the state Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention echoed that sentiment.
“We know that in-person instruction is the best way to do instruction, and we know that this can be done safely,” Inslee said during a Tuesday news conference. “This is tremendous news for our state.”
The governor then outlined his “Learn to Return” plan, which aims to accelerate in-person education by offering districts state-funded COVID testing for students and staff, through the nonprofit Health Commons Project.
Each district is assigned a consultant to develop a strategy for on-site testing. That could include only testing people experiencing COVID symptoms, or doing random asymptomatic screening.
The new tool is intended to build confidence in teachers and families, Inslee said.
Statewide, more than 60 districts have already signed up for the service.
All costs are picked up by the state Department of Health.
Some have argued that teachers should be vaccinated before they return to work, which would delay the return to in-class instruction for months.
But remote learning isn’t working for the state’s students, Inslee said, especially those experiencing poverty or who live in rural districts.
“Despite our best efforts, that has been the fact,” Inslee said. “Schools provide nutrition and many other services that kids can’t get at home. … If these students can safely return to class, we should feel a sense of urgency to answer this paramount duty to our students.”
Additionally, the federal report found that schools can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.