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Inslee signs emergency proclamation requiring in-person learning

By Washington state Governor’s Office  |  Press Release

Olympia, Wash., March 16, 2021 – Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday signed an emergency proclamation requiring all public K-12 schools in Washington to provide opportunities in both remote instruction and on-campus, in-person instruction.

Returning to the classroom

Under the proclamation, schools will be allowed to stagger the reintroduction of students to campus. Schools will be expected to provide an in-person learning option that equates to at least 30% of instructional time by two key deadlines:

  • April 5: All students in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade (depending on the school district) must be offered a hybrid option.
  • April 19: All remaining K-12 students must be offered a hybrid option.

In addition, schools must offer students at least two days per week of on-campus, in-person instruction.

As schools open, they must adhere to physical distancing, masking and environmental cleaning requirements set out by the state Department of Health (DOH) and worker safety requirements issued by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

The proclamation also orders the state Health Care Authority and DOH to immediately begin work on recommendations on how to support the behavioral health needs of our children and youth over the next six to 12 months, and to address and triage the full spectrum of rising pediatric behavioral health needs.

Under Inslee’s emergency proclamation, there is still the option for families who want or need to leave their child in fully remote learning to do so. Some families and students prefer this option, or will still need it because the student, or a member of the family is at high risk for severe COVID. Additionally, there are students who prefer remote learning for mental health reasons.

The effects of COVID-19 have not been felt equitably across the student population. English language learner students and students whose families are experiencing poverty saw absence rates at twice that of the general population.

Superintendent Reykdal sent a letter to school superintendents statewide on Friday. Reykdal’s office also created a document to answer questions on the school re-opening directive.

A behavioral health crisis

Washington’s students are facing unprecedented behavioral health crises as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, and prolonged isolation and educational gaps resulting from the lack of in-person learning. A return to campus, even if just part-time, will both help students with their education and grades.

Since the physical closure of schools, pediatricians are seeing a significant increase in youth with eating disorders, anxiety, mood disorders, and depression with suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviors.

Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane has reported a 73% increase in acute care admissions to its Inpatient Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and a 68% increase in admissions to the General Pediatric Floor for behavioral health related issues.

These increases aren’t isolated to Sacred Heart. Hospitals all across the state, including Swedish Medical Center, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital have all reported similar outcomes.

Moving forward

Inslee’s emergency proclamation reads, in part:

“Increasing the option to return to school facilities for all K-12 students will help to prevent or curtail mental and behavioral health issues for many students by reducing isolation and improving in-person access to educators, school personnel, mentors and peers, but it is not a panacea for the long-standing need for accessible behavioral health services and supports for our children and youth. It is only a part of the solution to addressing mental and behavioral health issues for children and youth, many of whom will also need greater access to and availability of behavioral health services and supports, in and outside of schools.” Read the full emergency proclamation here.

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