Elementary schools can start planning for in-person learning, county health officer says

Dr. Chris Spitters

Citing “ongoing moderate but declining COVID-19 transmission,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said that officials can start planning for in-person learning at elementary schools.

The guidance for public and private K-12 in Snohomish County– based on the Washington State Department of Health’s Decision Tree for In-Person Learning framework — defers to schools on how to best serve their students within that general framework and statewide guidelines. 

“A reasonable next step is for schools to begin planning for how to expand in-person learning to elementary school students, as well as to any high needs students in any grade level not already receiving in-person services,” Spitters said. “This does not mean schools should immediately go to full, in-person attendance in all elementary school settings.”

Schools have been asked to wait for at least three weeks  — following both the Labor Day holiday and the re-opening of schools in their current configuration. After that, if COVID-19 activity in the school and community remains stable or improving, and the schools feel prepared, then they can proceed with bringing elementary school students back incrementally for in-person learning, Spitter said.

After one group of students have resumed in-person learning, schools should allow for at least three weeks before bringing in the next group. This allows some time to detect any impacts to disease transmission prior to making the next move in a planned sequence. Local conditions, resources, and other factors within the school’s domain may lead a school or district to decide to move slower than this framework allows for, the health officer said.

Aside from middle or high school students receiving support services in small, cohorted groups, it is not recommended that middle and high school students return to in-person learning at this time. That is based on health district findings that teenage students:

  • have higher rates of COVID-19 than younger children;
  • are probably more likely to spread COVID-19 if infected; and
  • as a group, appear to face fewer challenges in remote learning.

Aside from special- or high-needs students, middle and high school students should remain in remote or distance learning for the time being, the health district said. If elementary school students are able to return to in-person learning in a safe and stable manner, maintaining similar or better COVID-19 circumstances overall, the health district will update these recommendations to address in-person learning for middle and high school students.

In line with Department of Health guidance, the health district continues to recommend against holding school-based extracurricular activities in-person until all students have had at least some access to in-person learning, and COVID-19 activity in the community permits such activities.

“It is inevitable that cases will occur in students and school staff as we bring more people together, but a case is not a failure on the school or district,” Spitters added. “We all must be prepared and ready to respond in a coordinated and sustainable fashion.”

More information on the updated recommendations for schools is available: Considerations to Inform Schools’ Planning for Return to In-Person Learning

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