Seattle, other King County school districts to resume full-time remote learning in the fall

SEATTLE, Wash. — At least eight public school districts in King County – including Seattle Public Schools – will resume full-time remote learning when school starts.

Seattle, Kent, Auburn, Bellevue, Highline, Federal Way, Northshore and Renton school districts have all made the decision this week to keep kids at home and learning online as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state.

“With the current community transmission rate data, it is not safe to reopen schools in person at this time,” Northshore School District Superintendent Michelle Reid said. “Further, with Governor Inslee reducing the number of congregants even in Phase 3, we do not find reopening school in person feasible now.”

In Seattle, the SPS Board of Directors will vote on the superintendent’s recommendation for full-time remote learning at its regular board meeting on Aug. 12.

In Auburn, school leaders said concerns from parents, teachers and school staff factored into the decision for full-time online learning.

According to Auburn Schools Superintendent Alan Spicciati, almost 50 percent of families said they are not comfortable sending children back to school without a vaccine or other guidelines being met. Roughly 25 percent said they were likely not or definintely not sending their kids to school this fall.

It’s a big shift from both state and local plans to introduce a hybrid learning model – a mix of in-person and remote learning.

Chris Reykdal, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said in June he expected schools to reopen this fall. A working group of over 120 educators, parents, students and community organizations released a 47-page document with new guidance that showed what face-to-face instruction could look like.

“Included within that guidance was a strict health and safety framework … the most stringent statewide framework we have seen in the nation,” Reykdal said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday. “Over the past few weeks, however, we have seen the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in many of our communities, which has understandably caused concern among some of our educators, students, parents, and guardians about our ability to safely reopen schools this fall.”

Reykdal said he respects the the “tough” decisions school districts are making at the local level, but stressed that the remote learning options given to students in the spring when the pandemic first began will have to “improve substantially” for this to be feasible in the fall.

“Taking learning online presents challenges that districts will need to face,” Reykdal said. “We know that in-person instruction is the most effective model for supporting our students; however, the safety of our students and staff has always been our highest priority.”

According to the state superintendent’s office, districts must have the following plans in place before the start of the school year:

  • Work with community partners to identify child care options for school-aged students whose families don’t have the option to stay home with a child each day;
  • Address gaps in connectivity and technology access so each student has sufficient opportunity to continue their learning outside of the classroom;
  • Continue providing school meals to the students who rely on them; and
  • Utilize their local data to determine which of their students need additional intensive learning supports, and provide those supports remotely if possible or in-person when that is the only effective delivery method.

All school districts this year, including those that will provide learning online, should have weekly schedules for each student, daily engagement or assigned work for each student, and requirements for daily attendance, Reykdal said. Districts must also meet the minimum number of instructional hours required by state law.

“I know the fall planning decisions are gut-wrenching, but each school district remains focused first and foremost on the safety of their students and staff,” Reykdal said. “The better we do together in reducing the number of cases and hospitalizations, the sooner we can return to more effective, in-person learning environments.”