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Washington makes push for return to in-person learning with expanded COVID-19 testing plan for schools — but no plan, yet, for vaccinating teachers

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing forward with efforts to encourage the state’s public school districts to return to in-person learning.

Tuesday, Inslee announced expanded funding and support for COVID-19 testing, one of the few levers the state can control in urging officials across the state and in its biggest city to resume in-class instruction. 48 new school districts signed up for the voluntary program, the governor said.

The program currently serves 13 districts piloting the COVID-19 testing protocols. That program will now expand across the state. In King County, districts in Renton and Vashon Island will be part of the testing effort. Early results show that cases of transmission in schools have been rare.

The state’s push on reopening comes under the latest CDC’s recommendations that K-12 schools “should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”

Seattle Public Schools, the district serving the state’s largest population, has not yet announced a return to classroom plan as its thousands of students have been served by months of remote learning. Preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders will return to the classroom starting March 1st, officials have been telling families and guardians. But outgoing Superintendent Denise Juneau has tapped the brakes a bit and no official announcement has yet been made. CHS reported on SPS’s status as Capitol Hill’s private schools have already begun returning to the classroom.

The Washington Education Association union has called for prioritization of vaccination for teachers if the state’s public schools are to return to in-person learning at a wide scale. The state’s phased schedule for vaccination priority has yet moved beyond its first segments emphasizing medical workers, at-risk populations including those 65 and older, and first responders.

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2 months ago

For God’s sake vaccinate the teachers and open the schools. Terrible damage is being done. I know of no elementary, middle or high school students who are doing “better” with remote learning. Plus with private schools’ return to in-person, it is unjust to leave everyone else behind. Sad siuation.

Rick James
Rick James
2 months ago

Vaccination is important but that is just a barrier the union is putting up to stop planning and progress. Data and science show vacccination is a “nice to have” for teachers given the risk. The police and teachers union have shown they are more interested in using government expenditures for employment than for their intended purpose. It’s a real shame.

1 month ago

I hear plenty of anecdotes that some kids are doing better remotely (no bullying, able to focus on academics, fine for introverts), and others more easily fall through the cracks, but it seems like no two schools are alike in how they handle the scheduling, screen time, testing, etc.

Glad to hear that it may be possible for the testing to ensure that spread in schools is reduced. This could also improve equity if parents are no longer afraid to send their kids in.

The only article I was able to find that mentioned a bit about the pilot program is this:

Takeaways – White River, Eatonville and Peninsula School Districts together found about 30 asymptomatic people, using 10,000 tests at a cost of at least $5 per test (not clear what the average cost of staffing and PPE is to run a test). If we assume an R = 1, and that each avoided case is worth up to $40,000 in medical costs and lost wages, it could be a really good value. It is also reasonable to think that schools might be a super-spreader setting (if you’re irresponsible like some other states are, and still have kids doing choir and contact sports and cram them into classrooms 2 ft apart with no ventilation), or that R << 1 because our schools are very responsible with the other mitigation efforts and kids wear their masks perfectly.

There are still huge gaps in the pilot, it seems, since parents have to opt in and most of the tests are just being used on teachers and staff, who notably wouldn’t be sitting a few feet from your kid on the bus ride into school. If parents had the option of opting in so that their kid can stay in school even if others have to go home when a positive pops up in the sewage surveillance.