UPDATE, July 9, 2020: After the publication of this article, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction updated the guidance for reopening Washington schools.
In an email responding to The Western Journal’s request for comment, Director of Communications Katy Payne stated “we did not provide enough context within the [phase-in-by-priority section], and we have subsequently updated our guidance.”
“What we intend by the guidance is that districts could prioritize bringing students back who face the greatest opportunity gaps within the district and the students who faced the greatest barriers to learning remotely this spring.”
This article has been updated to include the updated guidance and additional comments from Payne.
The state of Washington is planning on reopening its schools for face-to-face instruction in the fall but will prioritize “students furthest from educational justice” if all students aren’t able to come back at once.
These students include “students with disabilities, students with 504 plans, English learners, students who are migratory, students experiencing homelessness, students who are in foster care, students of color, students experiencing poverty and students who were not equitably served through continuous remote learning in spring 2020.”
According to the guidance, these students were impacted the most by the loss of in-person learning.
The guidance also asks the districts to “attend to students who fit into one or more of these identified populations and then integrate supports.”
A Frequently Asked Questions document associated with the reopening guidance said that “students furthest from educational justice and those who require in-person services to fulfill their basic education needs should be districts’ highest priority.”
The school districts do not expect to be able to accommodate all students due to new health and safety requirements.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released the guidance in June, but Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said they may need to reassess the guidance if there is another coronavirus case spike in the state, KREM-TV reported.
“We cannot guarantee that school will open in fall. But for now, this guidance provides a path that schools, educators and families need to plan for the coming months and the fall,” Inslee said at the time.
“Kids need to be learning but they also need to be safe and healthy.”
The OSPI said that districts should continue to prioritize the identified student populations “furthest from educational justice.”
“The impacts of fear, hatred, and systemic and structural racism within institutions cannot be ignored, and they yield tragic outcomes,” the guidance says.
“Washington’s public education system must engage in anti-racist capacity building, leadership, and resource allocation.”
The guidance adds that it is the duty of public schools to prepare students for their next education pathways, careers and civic engagement.
“Washington must create the conditions for each student to be educated in racially literate, culturally sustaining, positive, and predictable environments that intentionally prioritize the instruction and development of social-emotional skills, and mental health in addition to our primary focus on academic content,” the guidance read.
After The Western Journal reached out for comment, the OSPI updated the guidance for clarification.
“What we intend by the guidance is that districts could prioritize bringing students back who face the greatest opportunity gaps within the district and the students who faced the greatest barriers to learning remotely this spring,” Katy Payne, the director of communications, explained in an email.
“Districts would need to examine their data to determine who these students are, and then consider bringing them back for in-person instruction first to prevent existing opportunity gaps from widening.
“Our statewide data show these gaps are most often experienced by the student groups listed within the guidance (students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, students experiencing poverty, students of color), but it is up to the local district to examine their own data and make decisions based on that data.”
Previously, its example for implementing the phased return to school was to “serve students furthest from educational justice first, including students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, students experiencing poverty, students of color, and other student groups.”
The updated guidance now states students who should be served first and face the greatest “barriers to learn remotely” and “opportunity gaps within the district” could include those groups, like students of color.
The Washington Education Association, which represents teachers in the state, released a statement expressing concern over some of the safety measures, KREM-TV reported.
“We question if social distancing guidelines can truly be met in many schools across our state, given typical class sizes,” the statement read.
Schools are also considering canceling field trips, staggering arrival and dismissal times, and limiting nonessential visitors.
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