OLYMPIA — Now that teachers are getting COVID-19 vaccines, it’s time for all schools to reopen, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.
All of the state’s public school districts will be required to offer students at least a hybrid learning schedule by the end of April — to combat what the governor called a “mental health crisis” for students.
“We know so much more about this virus than when we closed our schools,” the governor said at a news conference. “We know we can do this safely. Our school districts are still required to provide all safety and health measures we require in our schools.”
Under a legally binding emergency proclamation to be issued next week, students will have the option to continue with remote learning. But districts must make arrangements to provide at least two days of on-campus instruction by April 5 for K-6 students and April 19 for grades 7-12.
After that, districts will be required to take steps to increase school capacity and classroom time for students.
“We’re not here today for threats, we’re here for success,” Inslee said.
To assist with reopening, the state estimates the two most recently passed federal COVID relief bills — one this week and one in December — will provide $2.6 billion to schools across the state.
For school districts to receive their share of funds approved in December, the state must OK their reopening plan by Monday.
In addition to personal protective equipment, ventilation systems and other safety measures, Inslee is asking schools to use some of the dollars for mental health counselors, nurses and other support workers.
“It’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic any more,” Inslee said. “It’s a full service, and we have to provide these full services.”
Statewide, 35 districts haven’t received approval, including those in Edmonds, Mukilteo, Marysville and Snohomish.
On Friday, the Washington Education Association, which represents classroom teachers, said Inslee’s plan assumes all schools will be able to meet safety protocols, noting that some unions are still negotiating with their districts.
“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,” Inslee said earlier this month. “These excuses are getting just a little bit tiresome, frankly.”
Across Snohomish County, districts have reopened at an uneven pace.
Most are currently serving elementary and middle school students. A few districts have returned high schoolers for in-person learning.
“The opportunity to open more expeditiously is upon us right now,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said at the news conference Friday. “It needs to be sped up significantly in communities across the state.”
Inslee’s announcement came less than two weeks after he announced all educators statewide were eligible for COVID vaccines, following an order from President Joe Biden.
In that time, thousands of teachers and staff have received doses.
Across Snohomish County, nearly every district has been partnered with a local pharmacy to help administer shots to staff, Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters told reporters earlier this week.
But some district administrators have been skeptical that they have enough time to orchestrate a full reopening, even with vaccinated staff.
“There is enormous hope in our society right now, when we think about where we have been in this past year,” Reykdal said.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.