In conjunction with public health directives, school districts throughout Southwest Washington are developing plans to return to full-time, in-person learning this fall.

Last week, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) published guidance for the 2021-2022 school year, stating that “schools must provide full-time in-person education for all interested students with the following mandatory mitigation measures: face coverings, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, details of how schools will respond to cases of COVID-19, and meet the reporting requirements to public health.”

While the CDC and the state of Washington both lifted mask mandates for those who are vaccinated, schools along with hospitals and other congregate settings still require masks to be worn by everyone.

In addition to the required mitigation measures above, district reopening plans must factor in physical distancing. Some school districts may choose to provide a fully-remote learning option for students who wish to learn in a remote setting, but they are not required to.

While vaccination will not be mandatory, the new DOH guidance comes just days after the authorization of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.

“There is nothing in this guidance that would prohibit in any meaningful way the ability to have full-time, on-campus learning,” said Governor Jay Inslee during a recent press conference. “We know it’s possible that distancing requirements could be removed altogether in the fall, if we have a significant percent of students who are vaccinated.”

Once finalized and approved by their school board, districts will submit their reopening plans to OSPI (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).

“I am looking forward to the opportunity for all students who want to learn in-person full-time next year, to return to our buildings full-time,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We have outstanding public schools and passionate educators; our road to a full recovery continues!”