Temporary school closures will be likely in the coming weeks as the state faces a series of obstacles — from COVID-19 to staffing shortages to inclement weather, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal said Friday.
His main goal, however, will be to continue in-person education across Washington throughout the school year.
Reykdal addressed these obstacles in depth at his address from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction headquarters in Olympia.
Reykdal hammered home a message he and district superintendents have repeated in recent months: schools are among the safest and most hygiene-focused environment for students.
“Our health and safety measures through the duration of this have gotten better, they’ve allowed for our schools to, quite frankly, be the safest places for kids. It’s the one place where there’s good hand hygiene protocols, face coverings, good distancing and a good attention to safety,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and we’ve certainly had outbreaks in schools, but we’re very, very thankful for the educators across every level in our state who have put their heart and soul into keeping schools open this year.”
School closures or transitions to remote learning will not be made on a statewide basis this year, he said.
Monday marked a return from winter break for school districts throughout the state, despite record-setting daily COVID-19 cases in the days prior. Though the omicron variant is spreading quickly, Reykdal anticipates that the risk to health will remain manageable as Washington continues to achieve high vaccination rates.
The aggregate student vaccination rate across elementary, middle and high school levels sits at approximately 42 percent, Reykdal said — a number he expects will continue to rise.
School employees continue to report a vaccination rate just north of 90 percent.
The biggest risk to keeping schools open, he said, is ongoing issues with staffing shortages. He said that teachers and school employees, however, should always take the recommended period of isolation if they test positive or begin exhibiting symptoms.
“We’ve got a challenging three or four weeks coming,” Reykdal said. “It is possible that your school or school district is going to have to make a decision for a short period of time just to make sure that folks can safely deal with an infection and return to school appropriately.”