11:39 AM: Almost exactly one year after he ordered schools to close, the governor says he’s issuing an emergency proclamation to “give every K-12 student” the “option” of in-person learning. (Watch his briefing live above.) He says there’s “now undeniably a mental-health crisis” for youth and so it’s imperative that they have the opportunity to go back. He adds that “the order allows for staggering the re-introduction”:
*By April 5th, all elementary students must have the option of in-person learning
*By April 19th, all other students must have the option
He underscores that districts “are still required” to follow health/safety precautions. He says his order will require at least two in-person days a week. He acknowledges that returning to in-person learning won’t instantly solve the mental-health crisis, so other measures will be taken to address that.
11:47 AM: The governor turns the microphone over to state superintendent Chris Reykdal. He says about 50 percent of the state’s students are already getting some in-person learning. He expresses concerns such as a high absence rate in middle and high school, and an increase in F/incomplete grades for their work, with a 50 percent jump in students as a result not getting credit for coursework, so “this is the time for us to double down” – reopening “needs to be sped up significantly. … The science says we can open schools up safely.”
11:56 AM: Swedish‘s director of pediatrics Dr. Nwando Anyaoku is speaking now. She says they’ve seen a dramatic increase in children needing emergency attention for mental-health crises “and that’s just the tip of the iceberg … that’s something we can’t allow to continue.” She’s followed by Dr. Peter Asante, from the board of the Washington state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The “impact of school closures (is) now at epidemic proportions,” he says. Masking, screening, ventilation are among “simple strategies that work” to keep everyone safe – so far outbreaks at schools have been “highly uncommon.”
12:10 PM: They and the governor all reiterate that the pandemic has brought inequities into the light and work to remedy them will have to continue long term. Inslee now moves on to media Q&A. He’s asked what changed enabling him to make this kind of order, since he’d said before that he couldn’t, and what happens if unions/district defy it? “Look, this is a legally binding proclamation,” he replies. But “we’re not here today for threats, we’re here for success.” As for the authority, he cites the new information about the mental-health crisis: “We’re responding to the new science that we have. … The conditions changed. The scientific information changed. The authority did not change – the conditions did not exist in which (we could) use the authority.” He also says vaccination of educators should not be an issue, as “they have an almost exclusive” access through the federal pharmacy program, along with access via other channels.
Pressed again, what happens if a district says it can’t meet the new deadlines? “That’s not going to happen because we know they can,” Inslee insists. “… Schools are making it work in every imaginable (type of) district across the state of Washington.” He declares the situation a “win-win-win,” and also reiterates that this is an order to offer the option, not to require families to send their kids back to school if they’re not comfortable with it. (Still no reply to the question of what happens if the order is defied.)
12:41 PM: The briefing is over. The archived video should be available in the same window above shortly. We’ll be updating as reaction comes in.
2:46 PM: Here’s the official statement we obtained from Seattle Public Schools:
Seattle Public Schools has been working to bring back our students, beginning with our most vulnerable, for in-person instruction: students receiving special education services and preschool students.
We are in active negotiations with the Seattle Education Association for a safe and successful return. We have a plan and have been on track in partnership with SEA to come to an agreement that would return these students beginning on March 29.
The governor’s proclamation and details will be released on Monday. We will need time to analyze the details of the proclamation and determine the impacts for our students, families, and staff.
3:26 PM: A spokesperson for the Seattle Education Association tells WSB that the union has no official comment yet.
7:15 PM: Here’s what SEA has sent to its membership, noting, “With our bargaining team in non-stop bargaining, we have not had time to fully process how this will impact the current negotiations.”