OSPI lays out plans to reopen schools in the fall

  • Written by Bob Kirkpatrick

OLYMPIA —The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has released guidelines that lay out the framework for schools to begin planning a return to the classroom in the fall.

The parameters outlined in a letter addressed to state superintendents and school leaders by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal on Thursday, June 11, are based on public health science and data provided by the state Department of Health (DOH). DOH is providing the regulatory framework for hygiene, physical distancing, and other public health considerations. 

“Nothing we have been through these past three months was in the training manual. Not in your formal education, probably not in your lived experience, and certainly not faced by the system as a whole,” Reykdal said in the letter. “Thank you for your leadership in uncertain times, and thank you for the grace you have shown our team at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) as we have tried to listen to you and health experts in developing guidance and advocating on your behalf with the Governor’s Office, legislators, and other critical education stakeholders.”

Northshore School District Superintendent Michelle Reid said the district will use the guidelines to start creating a plan to reopen. 

Reykdal said the guidelines provided by the DOH are grounded in his belief that the most equitable opportunity for educational success relies upon the comprehensive supports for students provided in schools with professionals and the systems of supports they have built. 

“We will do this together, keeping student and staff safety and well-being as our highest priority in the reopening,” he said … “To be very clear, it is my expectation that schools will open this fall for in-person instruction.”

The guidelines spelled out by the DOH, Reykdal said are specific to K–12 public and private schools, regardless of what phase of the governor’s Safe Start Plan their county is in. 

Counties in Phases 1 or 1.5 of the Plan must receive approval to reopen from their local health authority. 

“Changing health conditions in a county or region may cause a local health authority or even the Governor to have to reconsider this opportunity to open, but the primary planning of most districts should be a presumption of a fall opening,” Reykdal said. “For some of you, in order to meet DOH requirements, your fall opening may be a hybrid face-to-face/online model or any combination of modalities and schedules that meet your local community needs, while also affording all students in your district access to their basic education rights. 

“In addition, every district will need an alternative plan to return to full continuous remote learning in the event you cannot open or a local health authority or the Governor mandates a short or long-term closure after you open. We do not expect that, but a resurgence of COVID-19 is possible if we do not collectively do our parts to limit the spread of the virus.”

Reid said she hopes to be able to solidify a plan for schools in the district to return to the classroom and share it with the community by late summer. 

“As we learned on Saturday (June 13) from the state Department of Health and Governor Inslee, the COVID-19 situation is still fluid. Since closing our buildings back in March, we've been engaged in research and discussions to understand what we must consider as we prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff,” Reid said. “We will utilize the state's new guidelines, all of our research, along with feedback from our students, staff and families to plan our next steps for the fall. Our hope is to be able to share our plans for the fall with our community by the first week in August with the understanding that we all have to be flexible as COVID-19 comes with many unknowns and often dynamic guidance."

Additional pieces of guidance, Reykdal said, will be made available to district superintendents across the state in the coming weeks. 

“Some of this we have already identified, and some of which will become a priority of OSPI based on your planning efforts and questions that emerge from your reopening work,” Reykdal said. 

“The OSPI team has reset much of our work to being all-hands on deck to support your planning efforts.”

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