Inslee signs order to get students back in classrooms

The directive requires districts to offer at least two days of on-campus instruction per week for all grades.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation Monday requiring public schools to give students in all grades a chance to return to classrooms for in-person instruction by the end of next month.

Districts must provide an option for at least two days of on-campus instruction by April 5 for kindergarten through sixth-grade students and by April 19 for grades seven to 12. They would be in remote learning the rest of the time. Students also will have the option to continue with 100% remote learning.

By April 19, all districts must offer at least 30% of average weekly instructional hours on campus for those students who wish to attend in person. “Under no circumstances” can that be less than two days a week, which includes partial days, reads the order.

After that, districts “must continue to work” to increase school capacity and classroom time for students, the order says.

“Our educators have been creative and have worked diligently to provide the very best for all their students, including remote learning, but it is clear that there is no substitute for in-classroom learning. It is time to return to the classroom,” Inslee tweeted late Monday.

The order is legally enforceable and violators could be subject to criminal penalties. But the governor said last week the aim is to work with districts on reopening schools, not to punish them.

As of March 1, 41% of Washington’s public school students were taking part in some in-person instruction, according to state data.

To assist with reopening, the state estimates the two most recently passed federal COVID-19 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.

Statewide, 35 districts had not received approval as of Friday, including those in Edmonds, Mukilteo, Marysville and Snohomish.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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